On Thursday, City Slicker Farms broke ground on its latest project, the West Oakland Urban Farm and Park, a new community garden and open park space expected to serve more than 3,000 residents.
Located at 28th and Peralta Streets, the park will be City Slicker Farms’ newest and largest park to date—at 1.4 acres—once it’s completed in 2014. In addition to orchard and farming spaces used to grow produce for the organization’s farm stands, community gardening beds are also tentatively planned in the park’s design.
But the soon-to-be green space wasn’t always so eco-friendly: for 50 years, the lot was once the site of a former paint factory before deteriorating into a vacant lot and being designated by the state as a brownfield—reusable property that may be contaminated by pollutants or hazardous substances. From 2005 to 2006, the site was rehabbed and cleaned up under supervision of the State of California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).
Planning for the West Oakland Urban Farm and Park began in 2010 and included a three-month long community design process open to residents in the area to brainstorm proposed features for the park space. So far, blueprints include a dog park, play area and outdoor event space in addition to beds for community gardens, an orchard and native plants. Designated spaces for beekeeping and raising chickens are also tentatively included in the park’s design.
Directors of City Slicker Farms will continue working with the West Oakland community throughout the year to finalize features for the park, said Anna La, fundraising and communications manager for City Slicker Farms. “We came up with some really great concepts back in 2010 in preparation for the grant funding, so this is revisiting that process so we can come up with our final collective vision,” she said.
The West Oakland Urban Farm and Park will join City Slicker Farms’ Community Market Farms Program—a network of food-producing gardens, harvested weekly—that are open to the public. Produce from the gardens is sold on a sliding scale at the organization’s weekly farm stand, primarily to low-income customers. According to City Slicker Farms’ 2011 Annual Report, the Community Markets Food Program produced and distributed 9,000 pounds of produce in 2011. Of the nearly 500 people who visited the program’s farm stands, about 28 percent received their produce for free.
Once the West Oakland Urban Farm and Park comes to fruition, it will double the amount of sustainable land available for City Slicker Farms to grow fresh produce. Of the five Community Market Farms the non-profit operates—including locations on the corners of 16th and Center Streets, 34th & Peralta Streets, and Haven Street—the upcoming West Oakland Urban Farm and Park will also be the only farm completely owned by City Slicker Farms, unlike others co-owned by the school district or the city.
Funding for the farm and park space is aided by a grant from Proposition 84—the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006—which authorized nearly $5 billion in general obligation bonds to projects including state and local park improvements. City Slicker Farms was awarded $4 million from that grant in 2010, which went toward purchasing the lot and its construction.
But additional fundraising is needed to keep the project running in perpetuity, which may include additional volunteers or donations from outside funders. “This will double the amount of land we are currently cultivating. It’s quite the endeavor for us,” La said. “Even though $4 million seems like a lot, there’s the entire future of the park involved. The intention behind our decades worth of experience so far is that we can only achieve this in partnership with others.”
Support for the project has been overwhelming, La said, especially now that the land is secured for development and officially owned by City Slicker Farms. “There’s a huge buzz,” she said, “which is indicative of the letters of support from receiving the grant. We’ve received hundreds of letters.”
Renting spaces for community gardens can be problematic for those who want to invest in the property for the long-term, La said, as land owners can, at their own discretion, decide to change renters for using the property without consulting the community first. But now that City Slicker Farms owns the property on 28th and Peralta, longevity for the new farm and park is much more secure.
“Our intention also is that although we’re driving this project and have been the ones responsible for the purchase of the land, we want to really be open that this is for West Oakland. This land is for the community,” La said. “This is a point of pride rather than just a farm and park.”