Local eats, low incomes
A new league of extraordinary gardeners brings fruits and veggies to Oak Park
If Josh Cadji had a front-yard garden, he would encourage random passersby to pick his food. It’s this passion for access to locally grown eats that led the 26-year-old to start a new all-volunteer group, the Sacramento League of Urban Gardeners, or SLUG. Beginning this past April and going through August, the group will build one organic garden a month in the backyard of a low-income resident in Oak Park.
Tell me about starting a gardener’s league.
It is a community organization, justice-based, meaning it tries to get to the root problems of inequality in society. It isn’t charity. We bring resources to low-income folks and help them build gardens so they have access to healthy fruits and vegetables, as opposed to relying on corner stores for their food. In low-income communities, that’s what you find; the food is poor-quality, it’s all processed. For people who don’t have access to grocery stores, it’s beneficial to grow their own food. It’s empowerment work.
Describe how you came up with this plan.
I was living in Oakland last year, and my brother is really involved with food justice there. He works with an organization called People’s Grocery. There’s another organization called City Slicker Farms, and they do backyard gardening.
SLUG is modeled after that. [We will] teach residents how to maintain the garden and connect them to the food community, so if they have excess produce, they can trade with someone else. It’s about sharing. It’s not just an isolated act of goodwill. They pay it forward. We have a garden mentor to work with recipients of the garden after we’re finished; if [the residents] have questions, they can ask the mentor.
How much have you received in donations?
We have $100 [as of April]. One build, without labor, is like $250. That’s soil, compost, seed, wood. We ask people for tools and shovels, and we go to nurseries and ask for extra seeds.
Tell me about the selection process for where you start local gardens.
If you’re low-income or on government assistance. Or if you’re elderly or retired. We have an informal application. We meet and I test the soil and see if they have enough sun. I talk to them about food access: How often do they eat fresh fruits and vegetables? Often times, grocery stores don’t want to invest in poor neighborhoods because they’re afraid of decreased business, maybe vandalism. Organic [food] is expensive, and it’s mostly white, upper-class people who buy it.
How did you get interested in food access?
I volunteered at City Slickers. Oakland is an awesome place, but I feel more at home in Sacramento. I got into volunteering for Alchemist [Community Development Corporation] and Food Not Bombs.
Have you always been passionate about justice issues?
So how’d that develop?
My brother is very inspirational to me. I went through phases where I got burnt out. I was sort of into politics and George W. Bush won the re-election and I was like, “Man, this is it,” and I just stopped. For like three years, I didn’t even care. I was in college, so I was like, “Whatever.” But then I spent a few weeks in Oakland; it’s pretty radical and I caught the spirit.