From Food Desert to Oasis

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About 1,500 attended the grand opening of Community Foods Market in West Oakland on Saturday, June 1, 2019. The public celebration was free and open to the public, and is to become an annual festival. Photo by Amir Saadiq.

Community Foods Market has opened its doors, making it West Oakland’s first full-service grocery store in over 40 years.

A diverse crowd of about 1,500 people showed up last Saturday to celebrate the opening of the Community Foods Market, creating an oasis of fresh and healthy foods in what had been a food desert  in West Oakland.

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., people from all walks of life came to the market  at 3105 San Pablo Ave. to taste new foods, watch a Blues band and have fun at what will become a free, annual festival in the city’s McClymonds/Hoover/Foster neighborhood.

The long-awaited grand opening of the area’s first full service grocer in decades featured live music, dance and capoeira; a community resource fair; Oakland A’s interactive zone; children’s activities; community mural painting with Attitudinal Healing Connection and more.

“We are thrilled to bring fresh food options to Oakland’s San Pablo corridor,” said Brahm Ahmadi, Community Foods Market Founder and CEO. “We envision a vibrant community gathering space to unite around healthy living and neighborhood pride.” Ahmadi added that supporting healthy communities is what Community Foods Market is all about, starting with youngsters.

Photo by Amir Saadiq

To that end, the store is launching a “Fruit Club,” wherein kids who present their Fruit Club card will receive a free piece of fruit whenever they visit the store.

In addition, the 14,000- square-foot store’s Meal Station will promote a “recipe of the day,” complete with all of the needed ingredients to ease meal preparation for busy shoppers. The market’s Front Porch Café will offer coffee, smoothies and to-go items and host live music, art exhibitions, movie screenings and poetry readings.

Oakland District 3 School Board Member, Jumoke Hinton-Hodge, speaking in her role as a member of the market’s nonprofit arm, Fresh Life Foundation, touted the opportunities for residents to promote healthy life styles at the market. Included on the shelves were name brands that residents might find in a Safeway or Lucky’s, coupled with alternative brands with less salt and/or sugar added.

The fresh fruits and vegetables are familiar, with some new items. The vision is to hold workshops, taste testing by the resident chef to entice shoppers to try something new.

The market and the Fresh Life Foundation engaged the West Oakland community about a year before the groundbreaking. “Some people who were attending were investors,” Hinton-Hodge said. Beneficial Bank and other donors matched their contributions so they could be shareholders.

One exercise meant to unite the changing neighborhood was a “contest” to find out who had lived in the neighborhood the longest: the winner had been a West Oakland resident for 78 years.

Another part of the Fresh Life vision, Hinton-Hodge said, is to populate the shelves with the wares of local entrepreneurs, from home-made jellies and jams to hair care products.

Hinton-Hodge praised St. Matthew Missionary Baptist Church for leasing its parking lot to the market.

“This beautiful new store—and the team behind it—hits all the right notes,” says longtime resident and community leader David Peters. “The overall vision, store design, including community event space, and attention to local hiring…this project honors the history and integrity of the surrounding neighborhood—a true win-win-win for West Oakland.”

As many as 50-75 percent of the store’s employees come from the neighborhood, Hinton-Hodge said.

“They live around the corner from the store. For some, it’s their first job, and others have experience.” A worker-owner model for the store is projected in the next three years, she said.

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