Friday, April 25, 2008

A Real Grocery

I lived in Berkeley for about year in 2005. I got to know parts of Oakland through friends that lived there and events and activities going on around the East Bay. The poverty of West Oakland is real and yet can seem distant and far off when you're being whisked through it on a BART train.

The People's Grocery
is in that part of West Oakland where dozens of liquor stores are always two blocks away, multiple fast-food joints are around the corner but the closest grocery store, selling fresh food and vegetables, is a 15 minute drive. The community is depressed. The folks are struggling. The People's Grocery is changing all that.

Using a tri-fecta of cooking classes, urban gardening and local ownership, the grocery store of the future is being born before our eyes.

Not reliant on the big truck that brings "organic" food to Whole Foods or on the millions of acres of farmland in the San Joaquin Valley (and elsewhere) the local neighbors that turn out to buy the food from the People's Grocery are getting their own food from a mere few miles away. Not only are people learning how to cook simple, healthier meals but they are changing the community dynamic by bringing people together, keeping money within the community (instead of handing it off to some nameless national grocery corporation) and teaching skills that bring joy into people's lives.

This reminds me of another local-empowering project I heard about last week from my friend Zephyr. Up in Burlington, Vermont (my hometown) Michael and Valerie Wood started the Front Porch Forum dedicated to giving neighborhoods a place to communicate and share information online. Before you say, "Oh, great another Craigslist!" remember that the best online communities have a real world impact or tie-in. Front Porch Forum has that. They've launched test communities in five different cities across the U.S. and are experiencing exciting growth as more and more people join up to become a part of it. I just joined my (former) community "Meadowood Farms Neighborhood" and was shocked to find about 20 other people already engaging. Needless to say, it felt really good to join in.

The focus on local empowerment is not about "thinking globally, acting locally," though its a catchy saying and may have been over-used in the past decade. Its about the ability to see the impacts of your actions quickly and fervently. What you do in your community has real and rapid ripple effects on your neighbors and community members. Spending your money at a local grocery store like The Peoples Grocery immediately benefits a local business and local business owner, whereas dropping $100 at Whole Foods seems to disappear beneath the beast of the company.

More on loconomics soon...


michael said...

Hi Japhet... glad to learn about the People's Grocery... important work.

And thanks for the mention about Front Porch Forum. As you say, we're all about helping nearby neighbors connect and build community.

One clarification, we're only operating in Chittenden County, Vermont currently. Amazingly, we already have 9,000 subscribing households, including about 30% of Burlington. Here's a video clip.

You can track our progress on our blog if you like. Cheers. -Michael

Japhet said...

Micheal - thanks for the clarification. Here's to hoping FPF continues to grow in neighborhoods across the US.