Addressing the Climate Crisis through Food and Economic Justice
Communities most impacted by social, economic and environmental injustice lead the efforts to overcome those challenges.
Since the creation of this video, Planting Justice has successfully relocated the most diverse selection of certified organic collection of fruit trees to East Oakland where the Rolling River nursery is now located and has been operating for two years.
Staff reflections on 10 years of Planting Justice
Planting Justice's canvassing team takes a group photo before heading out to conduct grassroots fundraising and engage in conversation with residents about mass incarceration and community healing.
Some of Planting Justice's formerly incarcerated staff members describe their lives and involvement with Planting Justice post incarceration.
Sobrante Park residents celebrate the installation of a backyard permaculture garden in their community.
Volunteers at Planting Justice's nursery learn about fruit trees.
Planting Justice's Rolling River nursery has the most biodiverse selection of fruit trees in North America. https://www.rollingrivernursery.com
Volunteers and Planting Justice staff work together at the Planting Justice nursery.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small NGO (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
Planting Justice has many partners and supporters including nonprofits, land trusts, community organizations, government, and foundations.
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
United States of America
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
What country is your selected Place located in?
United States of America
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Planting Justice was founded in Oakland, California in 2009 to empower people impacted by mass incarceration and other social inequalities with the skills and resources to cultivate food sovereignty, economic justice, and community healing. This project is led by long-term residents of Sobrante Park, the neighborhood in Oakland with perhaps the most social isolation, violence, and economic oppression in the City. The city of Oakland, and the Sobrante Park neighborhood in particular are important to Planting Justice because the organization has the opportunity to positively impact residents’ lives within this community and resolve systemic barriers that residents face toward meaningful employment, healthy food access and community building.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Oakland Sobrante Park neighborhood aerial map view.
City of Oakland - aerial map view.
Sunny day at Oakland's Lake Merrit - perfect for lounging with friends or running around the lake.
Oakland has a culture of food trucks offering a wide variety of food types.
Sobrante Park residents and volunteers during a 2019 MLK day of service
Redwood Regional Park, park of the East Bay Regional Parks District.
Performance at Oakland’s First Fridays festival
Aerial view of the City of Oakland
With a population of nearly half a million, the city of Oakland is currently the 7th most ethno-racial diverse city in the United States. This diversity has created an environment where arts and culture thrive. But, there also exist great disparities within the city and especially within the last 10 years, gentrification has led to a decrease in diversity as African Americans and other minorities have been forced out due to cost of living increases.
The city of Oakland was founded on Native land, particularly that of the Ohlone people. Prior to Missionization in 1776, the Ohlone people lived for milenium in the Oakland area. In the late 1700’s Spanish colonizers forced Ohlone people into labor camps and conversion to Christianity, but despite this horrific history, many Ohlone people still call the city home today.
The city of Oakland is the proud birthplace of the Black Panthers party. In 1966, students at Merritt college founded the Black Panthers in response to police brutality, but the Party also held at its core a variety of social programs including the Free Breakfast program. To this day, one of Oakland’s attributes is that the city is home to many organizations fighting for social justice and community building, and social justice organizing events attract activists from across the world. In some ways, the city’s population seems divided - between those who benefit financially from gentrification and those who are striving to remain in their homes (the city has an estimated 6,000 unsheltered residents).
Oakland is a beautiful place to live, for those who can afford to live here. It has a mild mediteranian climate, rolling hills, regional parks, with easy access to San Francisco and the Bay. Most days, it’s sunny. Oakland also has progressive sustainability policies including a climate action plan, a sea level rise roadmap, prioritizes water conservation and clean energy use. Economically, especially from the 1940’s to 1970’s Oakland had a history of manufacturing including canning, automobile, bakeries, plant nurseries (led mostly by Japanese immigrants) and ship building. From a food perspective, in some ways Oakland is a foodie’s paradise with hundreds of restaurants of almost every imaginable food. The city also has a variety of farmers’ markets and grocery stores that offer organically produced, local products. However, these restaurants and goods are in no way accessible to all residents. Many parts of East and West Oakland are food deserts, and residents rely primarily on corner stores for groceries and experience other health and educational inequities including community violence and environmental contamination and air pollution.
The people of Oakland are proud to be from Oakland and many newer Oakland residents have moved to Oakland because of the culture, entertainment, social justice and artistic scene. But most also feel that the divide between rich and poor is ever-increasing and many struggle daily to be able to live here.
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Residents in Oakland face the challenge of equal access to healthy, locally and sustainably produced food. In some ways, Oakland’s food system is very progressive, but not for everyone. In more affluent areas of the city, farmers’ markets abound and health food stores with locally produced organic produce prosper with constant demand from a population that values and can afford these goods. However, in many areas of the city, particularly in West and East Oakland, residents do not have access to a food system that supports their wellbeing or health. Residents in these areas primarily have access to overly priced goods from liquor and corner stores with products sourced from thousands of miles away, and rarely offer any reliable selection of fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, national food policies, such as federal subsidies to large scale corn and soy producers, make unhealthy foods (chips, sodas) cheaper than their healthy (fruits, vegetables) counter parts. Couple that with heavy media marketing of these unhealthy foods, and targeting of teens and low income populations in particular, and demand (addiction to) for these goods remains high.
The food system that Oakland is a part of is also beginning to feel the effects of global climate crisis. Extreme weather events in countries across the globe that provide Oakland consumers with food goods, such as the extended yearly fire season, prolonged droughts, intensified heat waves, and rising sea water temperatures have had their impact on fishing and crop production. California’s Central Valley, which provides 80% of the produce for the country, is rapidly undergoing a process of desertification as farmers dig deeper and deeper into the California’s dwindling aquifer to provide water for their crops. Furthermore, human caused mass die offs of bee populations (and decrease in insect biodiversity overall) due to use of insecticides, is also adversely impacting the state’s food system. Overall, prospects are not positive for the state or national food system whose monocrop culture may be its downfall.
In the year 2050, the challenges that currently face the Oakland food system will be exacerbated as the climate crisis escalates. Without climate change mitigation, by the year 2050, some regions in the Oakland flatlands (Sobrante Park neighborhood in particular) could experience flooding due to rising sea levels, leading to an exodus of people from some neighborhoods. On a national scale, if the current economic model (infinite growth on a finite planet) continues to dominate, large scale industrial farms, propped up through tax incentives and subsidies, will likely still provide the majority of calories in many processed goods which low income populations are more likely to consume, leading to severe health impacts. Without serious reforms, 2050 could look like 2020, only with more drastic divides and inequities in the food system and healthy food access.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Planting Justice’s vision will address the challenges described in the previous question primarily through food system re-localization. This re-localization will impact where and how food is sourced and spur job creation in organic food production resulting in climate change mitigation and economic justice for communities most harmed by unjust food policies.
Additionally, Planting Justice’s vision aims at overcoming one of the main limitations of most job training models: the fact that these models are reactive, a response to changes in the job markets and/or the production processes instead of being a part of a proactive effort to address the systemic issues that limit the ability of workers to control the way things are produced and the benefits they extract from their labor. As a consequence, regardless of how innovative or technologically advanced these job training models may appear, they are vulnerable to obsolescence.
As a response to this, Planting Justice aims to create an “ecosystem” of social enterprises that will create its own local and regional food production and distribution centers based on worker and community control. This control will allow the workers to tailor their job training activities as a response to their own needs and those of the neighborhoods where they live and work. The roles to be performed by the workers in any of these enterprises will be determined not only by operational demands but also by the needs of the communities where they may be located, and are conscious of environmental impacts. For example, Planting Justice’s aquaponics incubator farm will train community residents how to build farms that produce all their own water and electricity needs, use 90% less water than in-ground growing, can be built on toxic/paved urban land, and produce intensive yields that can make urban agriculture on small empty lots economically viable.
The re-localization of the food system in Oakland, particularly the Sobrante Park neighborhood will have positive impacts not only for workers, but for the climate. Because food will be produced organically, will be sourced from and sold into local markets, emissions associated with food transportation and pesticide production, will be significantly reduced. Since workers are able to gain employment within their own communities, long emissions-producing commutes will not be necessary. Finally, residents in communities with little access to fresh fruits and vegetables with both have increased economic means to afford healthier produce (because of living-wage jobs), and will have increased access to healthy foods within their communities through local sale of these goods.
Finally, Planting Justice’s vision will address challenges in the food system nationwide through advocacy efforts that bring awareness and attention to the issues of mass incarceration, ecological destruction, and the policies that have led to our current crisis.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
Oakland and the Sobrante Park neighborhood in particular will be different than they are now because residents, especially people who are formerly incarcerated, will have living-wage, benefitted job opportunities in their neighborhood. Beyond a living wage job, residents will also have control and say over the mode and means of food production in their neighborhood through Planting Justice’s worker-controlled nonprofit model that operates with direction from leadership and peacekeeping councils. This power-sharing model will positively impact the level of community violence in the Sobrante Park neighborhood. Children will be free to play in local parks and residents can walk the streets without the threat of violence. Due to the reclamation and restoration of vacant and contaminated lots, as well as the organization’s involvement in community restoration projects and community organizing efforts such as the redevelopment of the San Leandro creek project, the neighborhood will have more community spaces available to residents. Now that the community has more economic means and less violence, a small full-service grocery store would have economic viability to open in the Sobrante Park neighborhood, selling some goods from Planting Justice’s farm and sourcing other local goods from cooperative businesses that had used Planting Justice as an incubator platform but now operate independently. Decades from now residents of Sobrante Park will be able to recall the generations of family members who have lived in the neighborhood; though their family had struggled financially to be able to remain there, they were able to secure living wage jobs, organize to secure renter protections, and invest in their community's well being.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
A wide variety of fruit trees for sale in 2020 at Planting Justice's nursery. The vision is to still be selling fruit trees in 2050 as part of an effort to re-localize the food system.
A Sobrante Park resident and employee at the Planting Justice nursery. The vision is to in year 2050 continue to employ community residents and pay living wages,.
In the year 2050, Planting Justice will be celebrating its 41st birthday in a vibrant Sobrante Park community where residents have access to the resources needed to lead healthy lives.
In year 2023 the organization completed the final piece of its model - the aquaponics incubator farm, on the 3-acre property it acquired in 2020 just down the street from PJ’s 2-acre nursery on 105th Ave in Sobrante Park (PJ is currently in contract on this 3-acre property at 359 105th Ave). The completed Planting Justice model includes a 5-acre food forest farm that yields over 200,000 pounds of produce a year to residents and serves as a germplasm repository for PJ’s collection of 1200 fruit tree varieties (currently the largest and most biodiverse collection of organic fruit trees in North America), a mail-order nursery that employs 30 Sobrante Park residents including formerly incarcerated individuals (currently operating at www.rollingrivernursery.com), a 3-acre aquaponics business incubator farm that grows 250,000 pounds of organic produce per year and employs 20 residents in growing greens and plant starts for local consumption, a canvass team that has over 20,000 conversations a year regarding prison reform and environmental justice and produces to 2,000 additional sustaining donors a year, a Transform Your Yard team which turns 200 backyards a year into food producing permaculture gardens yielding an estimated 30,000 pounds of produce a year, and a 10-member education team that implements food justice curriculum in East Oakland schools, prisons, jails, and juvenile detention facilities. The diversified funding streams brought in by the farm, canvass team, Transform Your Yard program, nursery, and aquaponics incubator, along with the support of cities and foundations that believed in the power of Planting Justice’s transformative model, has allowed the organization to consistently raise staff salaries in order to be able to pay both formerly incarcerated and local community staff members a just wage that allows them to remain in the city of Oakland despite cost of living increases, and gain access to goods (healthy food) and services that allow them to live healthy lives. In the year 2025, Planting Justice’s programs were able to generate enough revenue to fully subsidize its education program and the organization no longer had to be dependent on yearly grants to generate income which allowed workers to have increased agency over the direction and functioning of the organization. By 2025, PJ’s interwoven ecosystem of revenue generating programs is now seen as a national alternative model to foundation-dependent urban agriculture/food justice organizations, and thus, Planting Justice has launched an affiliate model that open-sources its manuals, database, and backend systems to enable food justice organizations around the country to adopt part or all of PJ’s model with the goal of systemic change in the nation’s food system.
By the year 2030, Planting Justice will have supported 20 cohorts of 4-8 residents each in obtaining their own empty lots in Oakland and joining the Aquaponics Producers’ Cooperative. After training them as paid staff at PJ’s 3-acre incubator aquaponics farm, PJ will have then provided each cohort with the back-end accounting, land use, zoning, food safety, design, and technological support to enable each of the 20 cooperatively-owned aquaponics farms to achieve economic sustainability. Rather than compete with one another, joint marketing and shared distribution channels will allow new aquaponics farmers to sell whatever they grow to the network of anchor institutions PJ has established, including the Oakland Unified School District and Kaiser Permanente (both of whom in 2019 indicated their excitement to purchase whatever produce is grown by the PJ network). Each of these aquaponics farms are catching all the water and producing all the electricity they need to operate, and each is producing over 100,000 pounds of organic produce/year in a closed loop system, resistant to drought, fire, and air pollution, and creating spaces where community members can come together not only to access fresh produce, but also to participate in cultural community-building events, educational programming, youth mentorship programs, and more. In addition, 15 small value-added healthy foods businesses had been incubated at Planting Justice’s industrial food production kitchen by the year 2030. By year 2032, these businesses were producing over 3 million pounds of organic leafy greens and culinary herbs/year, providing over half of the salad greens and cooking greens used by Oakland Unified School District and Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California hospitals, in addition to on-site sales that distribute food to local residents who can use their SNAP/food stamp benefits to purchase produce. These farms are also filling prescriptions of healthy produce prescribed by a network of physicians and public health departments who have realized our city can cut down on healthcare costs by helping to subsidize healthy produce for our lowest income residents. In year 2032, in an effort to support more local farming as part of a climate change mitigation plan, Oakland’s food policy regulations had also shifted to become more supportive of small scale urban farming which allowed for re-localization of the food system on a broader scale. During this transition, Planting Justice was able to provide a framework for an economically viable worker self-directed nonprofit with a horizontal payscale that allowed for just worker compensation.
By year 2050, the Planting Justice cooperative aquaponics farm model has since been replicated over 150 times across the City of Oakland, employing 1,500 worker-owners, who not only own their own land and businesses, but their own homes too. This Aquaponics Producers’ Cooperative is now producing 10 million pounds of certified organic produce per year, on brownfields that have been transformed from blighted and contaminated lots to sources of inspiration, community resilience, healthy food, and economic stability for the city. As a result, both incarceration rates in the city of Oakland and recidivism rates have declined. In year 2020 the recidivism rate was 65% in the Sobrante Park neighborhood, but now, in the year 2050, it’s just 10%. Planting Justice’s canvass team is proud that their social media advocacy efforts have contributed to a mass-scale movement to significantly reform prisons, and reinvest in neighborhoods. Amid increasing climate impacts and in an effort to increase equity nation-wide, in the year 2028, the federal government increased the amount of public funding available for local schools and community benefit programs which led to many positive changes in Oakland and the Sobrante Park neighborhood in general. Now, in the year 2050, youth born in the year 2028 are graduating from college and coming home to their community where well-paying jobs that do good for the environment and the health of the community are available to them. These youth were lucky to have grown up in a neighborhood that had already benefited from the transformation that investments in communities can bring. While systemic challenges still exist, the challenges were not as grave as those faced by their parents who had grown up without access to healthy food, good jobs, or community spaces and had experienced a high level of community violence. In the year 2050, the youth born in 2028 are becoming the local and national leaders who are able to cite their neighborhood as an example of how community members and worker directed nonprofits came together with the support of local governments and policy makers in order to help rectify the systemic social and environmental discrimination of the past. National excitement for the Planting Justice model (which started with PJ’s New York Times article “Kale Not Jail” in 2019) has grown, and dozens of grassroots organizations are participating as Affiliate Organizations in 2050. They have adopted PJ’s innovative model of 1) Perennial no-till food forest farms; 2) aquaponics farming on contaminated urban brownfields; 3) fee-for-service ecological landscaping (Transform Your Yard); 4) food justice youth education; and 5) grassroots canvassing and organizing, and Planting Justice affiliate organizations are sprouting up across the nation to structurally transform this country’s food system, while simultaneously providing tangible solutions to the interconnected crises of health disparities, climate chaos, food insecurity, mass incarceration, and gross economic inequality.
Though in the year 2050 the climate crisis is still being felt around the globe due to the inaction of the past generations, the youth leaders of 2050 understand how a local solution can be powerful in spurring a movement for change. In year 2050 there are undoubtedly still challenges as the world continues to face the impacts of the ongoing climate crisis, but the city of Oakland has faced those challenges through resident organizing and multistakeholder action. Through collaboration and replication of the worker-directed model, Planting Justice played a part in the journey of making the community more resilient, positively impacting not just the food system, but all the interwoven systems that determine healthy outcomes for residents.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?