Community Vision staff at Community Foods Market Ground Blessing ceremony on April 21, 2018
West Oakland’s growing and changing community is comprised predominantly of low-income Latino and African American residents with little access to nearby food retail. This forces residents to collectively spend more than $58 million annually on groceries outside of their own community. For low-income residents with little or no access to transportation, buying groceries is an increased challenge and results in community members doing their shopping at local convenience stores with little access to affordable, high quality fresh foods. As a result of this, diet-related, preventable chronic diseases are on the rise in the neighborhood.
Community Foods Market (CFM), formerly People’s Community Market, a full-service, community-oriented grocery store will mitigate some of these challenges. Spearheaded by founder Brahm Ahmadi, CFM emerges from People’s Grocery, a nonprofit that has been operating food enterprises, community workshops, and more for the last 14 years throughout West Oakland. Ahmadi always envisioned a grocery store as part of the strategic vision of the organization. Now, with increased education and capacity, Ahmadi has turned the community’s request for a local grocery store into reality. On April 21, 2018 a Ground Blessing/Breaking ceremony brought community partners and local residents together at the site of the future store: 3117 San Pablo Avenue in West Oakland.
CFM is leveraging community partnerships, investment, and local buy-in to develop a 14,000 square foot grocery store that will make it accessible for community members to purchase affordable fresh and nutritious foods, prepared foods, and other groceries while also providing engaging educational programs promoting healthy eating. CFM commits to being intentional in its internal and external roles in the community by hiring locally, providing enhanced job training and benefits, and eventually converting to an employee-owned business model.
“CFM will be a catalyst for economic development in the neighborhood. We have to play an active role in influencing what other businesses come in and what commercial development in the neighborhood will look like,” said Ahmadi. “We want to support local community members in becoming more resilient so that they can fight the forces of gentrification more easily. We want the community to really feel like this is their store.”
In Summer 2016 Community Vision provided CFM with a $25,000 grant from our Greater Oakland Fund (Go Fund). The GO Fund supports the acquisition, development and renovation of affordable housing and community facilities in select Oakland neighborhoods by providing nonprofit developers and community organizations with grants and zero-interest loans to fund site characterization and other predevelopment activities. Later, in 2017 Community Vision provided the market with a $3,000,000 construction loan through the California FreshWorks (FW) lending program, which Community Vision has been administering since last year.
“It has taken a lot of creativity, tenacity, and many strong partnerships to overcome the various challenges to getting this project off the ground,” said Catherine Howard, Community Vision’s director of Strategic Initiatives and FW. “This includes creative sources of financing, such as selling company shares to more than 500 California residents, obtaining federal grants that support healthy food projects, and getting construction loans from mission-aligned lenders.”