City Slicker’s farm springs up in West Oakland
on November 17, 2010
A piece of vacant land just under an acre and a half sits on the northwest corner of 28th and Peralta streets. Like a lot of freeway perimeter sites in West Oakland, the former brownfield is in the middle of both industrial and residential areas. It’s wedged between operating and abandoned warehouses, but less than a block north are occupied homes. Overgrown grass and litter clutter the triangular plot enclosed by a battered, chain-link fence. “Right now it’s just an empty lot with a big hole in it,” said Barbara Finnin, executive director of the West Oakland-based nonprofit City Slicker Farms. “So it needs help.”
Thanks to a $4 million grant from the California State Parks Department, which City Slicker Farms was awarded on November 8, the parcel will soon be transformed into a community farm and park. Although the department allows organizations up to eight years to get their programs established, Finnin estimates that City Slicker Farms will break ground for the community farm at the end of 2011.
According to the state parks department, plans for the property include a new urban farm/community garden, an open lawn area, a children’s play area, a dog park, a new fence adorned with art, as well as the installation of lighting and landscaping. The grant money covers land acquisition and construction for the project, but not its operational costs, Finnin said, so her group will spend the next two years fundraising to pay for staffing at the new farm.
City Slicker Farms has been working in West Oakland since 2001 operating community market farms, assisting residents in starting their own backyard gardens, and providing farming education to the public. The group currently has six community farms, garden and nursery sites in Oakland including the Center Street Farm and Ralph Bunche School Nursery. The new parcel at 28th and Peralta will be the group’s largest land acquisition.
Produce grown on the existing sites provides 7,000 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables to low-income families in the area each year, said Finnin.
The grant to help City Slicker Farms purchase its newest parcel is one of 64 statewide awards administered through the California State Parks Department’s Office of Grants and Local Services. The department’s distribution of $184 million to programs statewide is part the first round of grants that will help to build 50 new parks and improve 12 existing ones, according to the department’s website. A date for the second round of grants has not yet been set.
Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency also received two of the grants—$5 million to remodel an 8,800 square foot church in West Oakland into a recreation and community center. The agency was also awarded $2.25 million for the expansion of Cesar Chavez Park in Fruitvale.
The money for the grants comes from California State Proposition 84, the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act, which voters passed in 2006. According to the State of California’s website, the act allocated approximately $5.4 billion to fund services including water quality and supply, waterway and natural resource protection, as well as state and local park improvements.
Patti Keating, chief grants officer with the state parks department, said 475 applications were submitted and $1.6 billion was requested from agencies vying to receive a share of the bond money. “It was a very competitive grant,” she said.
The department looked for projects proposed for sites where resident income was low, access to parks was unavailable and community involvement—on the part of the applying organization—was high. “In the case of City Slicker Farms,” Keating said, “they were very involved in community outreach.”
Finnin said she is pleased and excited about the organization receiving the grant, but she believed that City Slicker Farms had a good chance of being awarded the money. “We’ve been around a long time,” she said. “It wasn’t a stretch for us to man this [new project]. But then again, it was $4 million we were asking for.”
Finnin hopes the new park and farm will serve as an extension of the services the nonprofit already provides, as well as become a gathering place for West Oakland community members. “I’m so excited about having a piece of land that people can come to as a community,” Finnin said.
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