Black Farmers, Traditional Food and Good Vibes at Oakland’s Freedom Farmers’ Market

Oakland farmers markets, my friends and family are a few reasons why I love coming home. Now I’m adding a new market to my weekend lineup: the Freedom Farmers’ Market, offering produce from Black farmers and a community space celebrating traditional foods and healthy food access.

“Food can be poison and it can be medicine. Food is life, it’s love, it’s history,” said Dr. Gail Myers, the market director and co-founder of Farms To Grow, a non-profit dedicated to working with Black farmers and underserved sustainable farmers around the country. “Here you’ll find yellow wax beans, purple hull peas, collard greens, foods that you might not see at other markets that keep the traditions of African-American foods and connect people to their history, their community and a sense of positive identity.” You’ll also probably find hugs from Gail, who got up to greet almost every person that walked in.

At the heart of the market’s mission is the effort to make healthy, good food available and affordable in places where people typically don’t have access to it. But there are additional layers: economic stimulation for Black farmers, support for emerging Black farmers, and building culturally diverse farmers markets.

Freedom Farmers Market Oakland Temescal
Will Scott Jr and Dr. Gail Myers.

“If you asked someone a little while ago if there were any Black farmers in California, they would have said no way, because so many were and still are operating under the radar,” said Will Scott Jr, who owns Scott Family Farms and is president of the African American Farmers of California organization. “But things are changing slowly.”

“Farming for many African-Americans has an association with slavery,” he said, explaining that farming has carried negative connotations for many African Americans due to the legacies of slavery, sharecropping and discriminatory government policies (Black farmers were denied farm loans and assistance by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for decades). Will grew up in the fields, left to pursue an education, and after retiring from his job started farming full time (yep, at the age of 53). There about 500 Black-owned farms in California, and a big part of Will’s work is creating visibility and market opportunities for operating farms, while supporting the next generation of Black farmers.

Freedom Farmers Market Oakland Temescal
Raised Roots, a new farm in Stockton is run by Jamil, pictured right. (And yes, his shirt is the best!)

So, what kind of food can you get at the Freedom Farmers’ Market?

Walking in you’ll find Charlotte who might fool you with her small table, but she’s got a serious stash of jams, butters, pickled goods, nuts, jellys, and beans (with cooking instructions “because you don’t want mush!”) I was tempted by the pickled okra and apple butter, but in the end walked away with a gold and black-speckled jar of kiwi jam.

Non-food vendors include jewelry and natural body products, and there’s a free library reading area. Mandela Foods Cooperative was there with snacks and there’s also donated bread from Arizmendi. Every week there’s a different activity like board games, pea shelling contests, live music or poetry.
There were three farms the day I went, all with a variety of produce. Raised Roots is a new farm run by Jamil Burns in Stockton, and from that stand I walked away with a perfect tear-drop shaped eggplant and a bunch of mizuna picked that morning. From R. Kelley Farms I grabbed a few yellow and purple peppers, and from Scott Family Farms, the last peaches of the season.

Freedom Farmers’ Market
Open Every Saturday July 9 – November 19
10:00 am – 3:00 pm
5316 Telegraph Ave, Oakland CA

Learn more about Farms to Grow here.