22 Aug 2014
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Activist & Sheriff Work For Food Justice

Hiring local youth to grow and sell fresh produce on unused county lands in a story of the system working as it should.

Activist & Sheriff Work For Food Justice Activist & Sheriff Work For Food Justice Activist & Sheriff Work For Food Justice Activist & Sheriff Work For Food Justice Activist & Sheriff Work For Food Justice


Alameda County has very quietly done something very right and only now are officials and activists starting to talk about the success of an experimental initiative called Dig Deep Farms and Produce.

Dig Deep was founded a little over two years ago through a unique collaboration between Sergeant Marty Neideffer of the county sheriff's office and East Bay social justice activist Hank Herrera.

Their idea had several prongs:

  • to put underemployed youth to work;
  • to grow fresh fruit and vegetables on unused county land;
  • to sell healthy foods in low income communities;
  • and to do all this while recycling money back into the community. 

"Alameda County has the best urban agriculture public policy in the United States that nobody has ever heard of," Herrera told Patch at a recent ceremony to .

In light of news that in Alameda County, Dig Deep is an experiment in bringing healthy food to communities where it isn't readily available.

What went right?

Recently,  to celebrate the two-year old program that now has about 11 acres under cultivation.

The event offered a chance to meet the sergeant in the blue uniform and the activist with the pony tail who have spearhead the effort.

The ceremony was held on a sweltering day in the hills above San Leandro.

But the perspiration on Sergeant Marty Neideffer's forehead was the only sign of how he must have felt in his formal, wool uniform.

Neideffer heads the Deputy Sheriff's Activity League, the off-duty effort of county law enforcement to give kids opportunities to keep them out of jail.

A couple of summers ago, Neideffer bumped into Herrera at a meeting where they discovered some common interests.

Herrera had a history of putting together urban farming initiatives. Neideffer liked to think outside the box.

Between them they got the idea to form an enterprise that would farm vacant land in low income areas like Cherryland. They found one lot on county land adjacent the fire station on 164th Street and a second mini-farm on a private parcel behind Pacific Apparel on East 14th Street.

They got grants from the Koshland Progam and Kaiser Foundation of $50,000 and $20,000, respectively, and used that to leverage federal stimulus money to hire about 10 people.

They at the end of 2010, just a few months after it was conceived and last year.

The initiative has enjoyed support from all levels of county government, including members of the law enforcement community, who see urban farming as an opportunity for young people who don't have many other options.

"Our job is to arrest people," said Captain Dale Amaral with the Sheriff's Department. "But wouldn't it be great if we could get them when they're just on the edge and put them on a different path."

What's next?

Dig Deep now generates about $6,500 a month through a combination of bulk sales to restaurants and home deliveries to familes in a Community Supported Agriculture model.

Dig Deep is not yet breaking even, but Neideffer said the the new orchard and vegetable fields are supposed to create the volume to make that possible. 

At the dedication ceremony, Dig Deep sales and delivery staffers Sam Faulkner and Tommie Wheeler said they come to work with a sense of mission.

"We see the food grown and sold and eaten," Wheeler said. "It's good to be part of that cycle."

Read more urban farming stories.

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