On the Road: Mandela MarketPlace, Oakland, California

An article about Mandela Marketplace, a 2009 recipient of the competitive USDA Community Food Project grant.

By Siena Chrisman, Manager of Strategic Partnerships & Alliances

I was recently in the Bay Area, and had the opportunity to visit Mandela MarketPlace, a 2009 recipient of the competitive USDA Community Food Project grant. I was especially excited to meet folks at Mandela because we have selected them to be part of the pilot year of the WhyHunger/Growing Power Community Learning Project for Food Justice. We will be working with them closely in the next year, facilitating shared learning with their partner groups in LA and Chicago.

Mandela MarketPlace is addressing the food access issues and health disparities of its West Oakland community in innovative and community-led ways. The strategy is to improve the community’s health and economic strength through changing what food is in the local stores. Having already opened a full grocery store in a worker co-op model and partnered with two nearby corner stores to deliver fresh produce, Mandela’s Programs Director Quinton Sankofa sees enormous potential for expansion. “[Our produce distribution] is about to expand to two more stores. There are 20 corner stores in the immediate neighborhood – why not expand to all of them?”

The Healthy Neighborhood Store Alliance developed out of a community-engaged planning process, and the implementation continues to be community-based. It also relies on Mandela’s youth program, WYSE (West Oakland Youth Standing Empowered), which involves local youth aged 15-21. The Alliance project delivers fresh fruits and vegetables from limited-resource California farmers to corner stores in West Oakland, a neighborhood heavier on fast food chains than produce stands.

To decide where to expand, the WYSE youth crew “secret shops” at several target stores, doing reconnaissance to see what products a store carries, if it has the refrigeration capability to stock produce, and if the owner treats the customers well. After visiting several stores, the youth consult with each other and their team leaders to determine the best candidate, and then prepare a pitch to the store owner about the advantages of participating in the program. When a store becomes part of the program, the youth remain the primary points of contact with the owner, making the deliveries, checking on inventory, and talking to the store’s customers. Ennis Jones, a West Oakland youth who has been part of WYSE for two years, said he’s developed relationships with many of the customers at the two stores the Alliance currently works with, and gets regular feedback from them about what kinds of produce they’d like to see.

Mandela MarketPlace Executive Director Dana Harvey estimates that in the first year of the Alliance, the two participating stores sold about 150,000 pounds of produce. She points out that the project is a win-win-win, for the West Oakland community, for the youth – and for the local farmers, who grew about 40% of the produce, for a total price of approximately $70,000.

Check back later in the year for more on Mandela MarketPlace as we learn from them and their partners in the Community Learning Project for Food Justice.