The Green Collar Community

Dig Deep for Food Justice


Not too many decades ago, Cherryland—an unincorporated community between San Leandro and Hayward—was fittingly known for its cherry orchards.[1] Neighboring Ashland comprised swaths of farmland that produced fresh food for the Bay Area. But that era is long over. After years of race and class dynamics that funneled low income people of color towards the edges of Alameda County, these neighborhoods are a very different place. Ashland and Cherryland now have some of the largest housing densities in the East Bay, rampant unemployment, and average life expectancies that are up to 10 years shorter than those in wealthier Alameda County cities like Emeryville and Piedmont.[2] The very same land that used to produce food for the Bay Area now does not have a single supermarket (though there are plenty of corner stores that sell liquor and canned foods).

Dig Deep Farms & Produce is on to a solution to those problems: community-owned urban agriculture.

Dig Deep is currently cultivating nine acres of land in Ashland and recently planted 140 fruit trees to create their first orchard. They are employing five community residents as urban farmers. They have a modified Community Supported Agriculture program with over 200 subscriptions to provide “Grub Boxes” to the community at an affordable price.[3] They have set up produce stands in Ashland and Cherryland so that residents finally have a place where they can buy fresh, healthy, local food.

Beyond Just Food

But Dig Deep, like all food justice enterprises, is about more than just the food itself; Dig Deep is working to build community control. They are providing job training to their urban farmers who are not only improving their farming skills but also assuming responsibility for packing and delivering food and financially managing Dig Deep’s CSA program and produce stands. They are gearing up to provide business incubation services for food enterprises that will serve Ashland and Cherryland and other vulnerable neighborhoods. They are even helping to reduce crime.

Dig Deep is a project of the Deputy Sheriff’s Activities League (DSAL), a nonprofit whose goal is to reduce crime and enhance the lives of Ashland and Cherryland inhabitants. The link between Dig Deep’s urban agriculture project and crime reduction is not necessarily an obvious one, but founders Hank Herrera and Marty Neideffer explain that Dig Deep’s focus is providing jobs to the reentry community, i.e. people with law enforcement records, which is a key recidivism reduction strategy.

What’s Next for Dig Deep Farms

With help from EBCLC’s Green-Collar Communities Clinic, Dig Deep Farms & Produce aims to spin off its farming and retail activities from the nonprofit to the workers, by forming a worker-owned cooperative. The low-income worker members of the cooperative will benefit from the growing business that Dig Deep is catalyzing in the form of increased produce sales, both to residents and local restaurants, and the establishment of a commercial kitchen.  Dig Deep’s long-term vision is to create a local food system that will be owned and controlled by the community —one of the benefits of turning the farm into a worker cooperative is that its profits will go to local workers rather than distant shareholders, giving members a very real stake in their food enterprise and the community it fosters.

Thanks to Dig Deep Farms & Produce, it looks like Ashland and Cherryland might see a return to their roots, housing the farmlands and orchards for which they were once known.

Dilini Lankachandra is a Law Intern at EBCLC’s Green-Collar Communities Clinic and a second-year law student at UC Berkeley Law (Boalt Hall).

[1] Castro Valley/Eden Area Chamber of Commerce. Accessed 6/17/2013.

[2] Alameda County Public Health Department. The Health of Alameda County Cities and Places: A Report for the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California, 2010. Oakland, California. July 2010.

[3] In collaboration with People’s Grocery in West Oakland.