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Community Food Market Ends West Oakland’s Food Desert

Photograph by Maxwell Barmack

Construction will begin soon for the Community Foods Market on 3105 San Pablo Avenue in Oakland. This market will be the first full-service grocery store in West Oakland in more than forty years. Demolition of the site began April 13.

The market, originally called People’s Community Market, is being led by a group of experienced grocers, restaurateurs, and entrepreneurs from around the Bay Area, with Brahm Ahmadi as the CEO. Ahmadi started People’s Grocery in 2002 to provide groceries for underserved communities, and this market is their largest project up to date. Much of the money for the project was collected between 2012 and 2013 from investments from many local groups and individuals, according to Ahmadi. The building site was decided in 2015, after a difficult search, and Community Foods Market is currently on a thirty year lease from East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC), but hopes to be able to buy it themselves within twenty years.

The plans for the market show that it will be  around 14,000 square feet of space, smaller than a typical grocery store. Because of the smaller size, the market will only be able to provide about half the amount of products as a normal grocery, and focuses on providing fresh, affordable produce, according to the Community Foods Market website. Along with the aisles, there will also be a seafood and meat counter, as well as prepared food options, such as a cafe, a deli, and a “Grab and Go” section.

City of Oakland is hopeful that the market will be able to be a big help for the area. “With much of West Oakland being in what many call a food desert, a geographic area with a dearth of healthy and affordable food options, Community Foods will be a much needed oasis providing the fresh foods, goods, and community benefits this neighborhood needs,” said Justin Lee, a councilmember aide to Lynette McElhaney, the City Councilmember for Oakland’s District 3, where the market will reside.

According to Ahmadi, residents of West Oakland currently spend around seventy percent of their money for food outside of the area.

Lee added that many of their constituents  had been pushing for more groceries in the area.

Neighbors of the market also hope that it will be a good development for the area. “I think it’s a good idea, because there’s no real food available around here,” said Mageed Alwasim, a part-time clerk at Bay Area Liquors and Market, which sits across the street from the soon-to-be market. Alwasim expressed some concern about the market’s success when it first opens. “I think, in the beginning, it’s going to be a little rough because of all the panhandlers and such,” said Alwasim.

Community Foods Market has made an effort to include the local community in the project. On April 21, Community Foods hosted a ground breaking ceremony at the site, featuring McElhaney, as well as representatives from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s office, OUSD, EBALDC, and other local organizations. The meeting included “a ceremony performed by African American and Ohlone elders to bless the land and the market’s future,” said Lee.

As well as providing a means for locals to get healthy foods nearby, Community Foods Market hopes to live up to its name, with space for community-centered events which will be called the Front Porch social hall. It also plans to provide educational tools around food and healthy eating.

Lee feels this is an important, and often overlooked,  aspect when trying to replenish food deserts. “There is a misconception that the only reason members of communities in food deserts are experiencing the detrimental effects of diet related diseases … is due to a lack of access,” Lee said. “It’s also important that Americans as a whole are better educated about how to eat healthier, especially as producers of manufactured foods continue to receive federal and state subsidies.”

Ahmadi said the market could open as early as the end of this year, with October 2018 being the estimate given to neighbors and surrounding businesses.