Dana Harvey is being honored as a Champion of Change for strengthening food security.
I so proudly and humbly accept this Champion of Change award on behalf of the residents, farmers, business owners and leaders who I work with every day to improve food security, community health and community well-being. The work that I am being recognized for is truly “our” work. It requires the dedication, commitment and strength of an extended community effort.
I believe that community change happens from within. People know what the challenges are in their communities and how to solve them. In disinvested communities, however, access to resources to implement solutions is limited, inequitably distributed or non-existent. Shifting this resource dynamic to invest directly in human capital, skills and entrepreneurship of residents to build local food systems and local food economies is the core of my work.
Fueled by innovation and with minimal resources, Mandela MarketPlace in Oakland, CA supports and operates a successful community-directed and community-owned local food system that includes a cooperative grocery retail, local produce distribution center, produce service for corner markets, network of urban production farms and a youth leadership program that is a model for other communities. We employ 21 residents in jobs while also creating business ownership opportunities. We have distributed over 250,000 pounds of fresh produce into a “food desert” community and we continue to distribute thousands of pounds per month. We nurtured 20 youth, and continue to nurture additional youth, from high school to college and into entrepreneurial and career paths. And, we improve the health and well-being of hundreds of people daily.
Owning our own grocery stores that promote healthy and locally produced foods not only increases food access, but also provides jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities to residents who otherwise may not have a chance to own a business. Working hand-in-hand with existing corner markets to help them improve their healthy food offerings and become a better neighbor not only increases access to healthy foods, but also strengthens our community.
Youth learn to be community leaders when they are in their neighborhood sharing healthy food recipes and samples of fresh fruits and vegetables, while encouraging residents to support the corner markets that offer healthy food options. Partnership with local residents and artists to improve store facades inspires pride in the community and dissuades violence and loitering.
Increasing access to inner-city markets for struggling family farmers who so carefully use sustainable farming practices so that the food they grow and sell builds our health, and also the health of the soil. Supporting urban production farmers who protect important urban green space and can supply fresh foods to community markets and farm stands increases our connection to growing food, and creates new economic opportunities.
These solutions work because they are community directed and community owned. They are comprehensive and shift the paradigms that create food insecurity and social and economic disinvestment. They build from human capital, assets and resources that exist within our communities. They invest directly in the skills and entrepreneurship of residents to build and own their food economy.
Although I am named as the Champion for Change, this award truly recognizes the innovation, commitment, and tenacity of people coming together to solve a critical problem in their communities – not just for themselves but for their neighbors, their children and the future. I am so fortunate to be a part of this extended community effort.
Dana Harvey is the Executive Director of Mandela MarketPlace