How can a grocery store lift a community out of poverty? The People’s Grocery provides creative solutions to community health problems that stem from a lack of access to and knowledge about healthy, fresh foods. The personal journey of Executive Director and home-grown food justice leader Nikki Henderson brings heart, soul and love to community health and wealth for the low-income community of West Oakland, California.
Click here to download Bioneers Radio Series XIII Brochure
Series Theme Music: "Soiridh Leis" from the CD Journey Between by Baka Beyond. Used with permission from Hannibal Records, a Rykodisc label; www.rykodisc.com
“Field Trip” and “Duet” by Jordan Tice Trio from the album THE SECRET HISTORY; Patuxent Music CD-230; 2011; Contact: www.jordantice.com, www.pxrec.com
Bioneers Series XIII - Program 13-13
Flavors of a Whole Community:
Ingredients for Food Justice
00:00 Welcome (00:05)
Welcome to The Bioneers: Revolution From the Heart of Nature
00:05 Henderson teaser (00:13)
What we do is wonderful, but how we do it is what people remember, because People's Grocery has got heart. We have got soul. And we love.
00:40 Macy (00:09)
It’s all alive, it’s all connected, it’s all intelligent, it’s all relatives…
00:49 Bioneers Teaser (00:28)
We stand at the threshold of a historic opportunity in the human experiment: to re-imagine how to live on Earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other and future generations.
It's a revolution from the heart of nature - and the human heart.
In this series - The Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature - we celebrate social and scientific innovators with breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet - creating a future environment of hope.
01:17 Theme music fade out (00:08)
01:25 Opening underwriting narration (00:10)
Support for The Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature is provided in part by Organic Valley Family of Farms and Mary’s Gone Crackers.
01:35 NARRATION 1 (1:18)
Check your outdated misconceptions at the door as we take a deep dive into the nexus of public health, economic development, and food systems, known as the food justice movement. This is neither your grandma’s environmental campaign, or your grandpa’s civil rights movement. Food justice is a naturally evolving, grassroots people’s movement that finds common ground and common solutions for the formerly separate causes of social justice and environmentalism.
It is an expansive and inclusive movement that brings all kinds of people together – beautifully, organically and lovingly around one of the most basic things we share: food.
In backyard and community vegetable gardens across the world conversations are rising from soil to soul about our mutual future.
Around tables of neighborhood grown food, people are working out how to get along together and how to create urban food sheds. Together they are reclaiming the community knowledge and sustainability skills that foster health and well being for all.
This is “Flavors of a Whole Community: Ingredients for Food Justice” with the executive director of the People’s Grocery in Oakland, California, Nikki Henderson.
My name is Neil Harvey. I'll be your host. Welcome to the Bioneers: Revolution From the Heart of Nature.
02:53 Music fade (00:12)
03:05 NARRATION 2 (00:40)
The premier food justice organization on the West Coast is Oakland’s People’s Grocery. It is a beacon of abundance and food security in a community that has formerly been identified as a “food desert” with little fresh food availability; or a “food swamp” awash in high-fat, high calorie fast food. As the global conversation about real food access grows, the vision of the People’s Grocery is expanding from neighborhood to national. Executive Director Nikki Henderson, found inspiration, motivation and her earliest mentors – at home, around the dinner table... and from her family’s musical past.
03:45 Henderson 1 (00:29)
I wanted to start by sharing my story. First and foremost, I am an artist, and it has taken me years to be able to say that up front, that I am an artist. But my great grandfather, Alan[ph] Jones, was in a minstrel show in the South, Alan Jones and his seven brown babies. So I grew up from hearing those stories from Papi, his son. And Papi, my grandfather was in a blues quartet in the 1930s and '40s called the Delta Rhythm Boys.
04:14 NARRATION 3 (00:11)
What does “art” or “music” have to do with Nikki Henderson’s vision of Food Justice? The connection is storytelling. She spoke at a Bioneers conference.
04:25 Henderson 2 (02:50)
So I was raised by a mother who was raised by an entertainer, and music—music—and storytelling was such a deep part of the way that I was raised, and so I kind of saw everything through the lens of storytelling. And one of the stories of my upbringing was food.
One of the things I tend to ask people in my line of work is what was your first food story. What was the first time you can remember food? So my first food story is actually before I can remember. It was stories from my mother about how well she prepared her diet and how well she prepared her body before conception, [Laughs] during pregnancy, and while she was breastfeeding me. [Applause] That is all I heard growing up, was that I was prepared for. And what she put in her body was tiptop so her baby could be tiptop. [Laughter] You know what I'm saying? So how do you go wrong when you start out like that, that's what I'd like to know. And so, that was my mom, right?
And there was also the whole, like, not really aspirin when you have a headache, are you thirsty, here's a tincture; here, drink the wheatgrass, it's making you throw up, well, here's a brown paper bag, it's good for you, drink it. Right? [Laughter]
And then, with my dad, it was begging him for sugar, begging him. Daddy, we don't like that raisin bran. Can we get the raisin bran with the sugar crystals on it? Please? Please? Everyday. For lunch everyday in the third grade I had a peanut butter sandwich, an orange, and a juice box. He was dead serious about it. But Daddy, we're hungrier than that, can we get some fruit snacks. No, you can get another orange, though. [Laughter] And if you're good, I'll throw in an apple, how about that? Variety. [Laughter]
So what we put into our bodies when I was a kid was the—of the utmost importance. And something that I started to realize when I got a little older was the fact that not everybody ate that way. And it's not that we were in a vacuum. I do remember the fact that on Wednesdays McDonald's had the, you know, the 29 cent hamburgers, and, you know, on Sundays it was the 39 cent cheeseburgers. And then the Shasta cooler outside Ralph's would sell a 25-cent sodas. I had that meal too. Trust, I had that meal too. But when it occurred to me that being able to do that as a joy on the weekends, and then come home to brown rice, baked chicken and vegetables actually kept us healthy. Moderation was the name of the game for us.
07:15 Henderson 3 (01:46)
Something started to click for me when I was a teenager about how many people in my family had diabetes. And it was just normal, you know. Oh, now auntie has it. Well, what's wrong with Papi's legs? He has diabetes. What does that have to do with his legs? That was my healthcare education when I was a teenager. Why did Aunt Mildred's leg get amputated? Diabetes. What's wrong with Uncle Bate[?]? Diabetes. And over and over and over and over again in my family, and it hit me so hard. It was—I was imagining my mother's journey as she watched her aunts and uncles suffer from these diet-related diseases. So the fact that she used to joke with us about how she prepared for us was so much deeper to her. It was so much deeper to her than bragging rights. She wanted us to live. She wanted us to live.
And so that is the care and the love that I come from in my family. And when it comes to being raised as a social justice person, what do they do? They run a foster family agency. That's my parents. I grew up with foster brothers. I saw the divide. I saw why some kids don't have parents. I saw why some parents can't raise their kids, many times to no fault of their own.
So what to do with all of that. What to do. I was spinning. I was spinning, [Laughs] trying to figure out what to do with all of that.
09:01 NARRATION 4 (00:18)
Nikki Henderson carried these childhood lessons with her as she left home for college. Her heart led her to the environmental movement, but as a person of color she found herself off-balance, with feet in two worlds.
09:19 Henderson 4 (04:27)
And when I got to college, I found sustainability because it seemed like the best of both worlds, right? I could do water, I could do climate, I could do food, I could do justice. I could do it all, because I am an eco-spiritualist hippie, like, really. [Laughter] At the core—I know I look like this, but, you know, I'm like—I would live in a hobbit hole, hobbit hut if I really could, right? [Laughter] And build cob and, you know, mix the goat poop with the feet, like, I love that stuff. [Laughter] Let me tell you. So that's who I was in college, you know. Jumping into Zaka[ph] Lake naked at the retreats with all the cool white folks with the dreadlocks, and not flushing the toilet, [Laughter] like that was all me. [Laughter]
But, you know, four years later, being the only black person in a statewide [Laughs] coalition of sustainability folks, it was a little rough, a little rough. And it actually reminded me of when I was a kid and how all I wanted to be when I was like 7 or 8 was an environmentalist, right? I watched Captain Planet. You know about Captain Planet, right? I know there's some young folks in the audience who may be a little young, so I may have to school you real quick, because Captain Planet, [singing]: he's a hero, gonna take pollution down to zero. Remember that? [Applause] Remember that? Yeah. I knew you remembered that. And in Captain Planet there was the black kid and the yellow kid and the white kid and the red kid, and they were all fighting environmental pollution people together, right? I was like, yeah, that's gonna be me. I'm gonna have my team.
And then I tried to find the black and the brown and the yellow and the red…in environmentalism, I was hella confused. [Laughter] I was like, what happened to Captain Planet? Where did it go? [Laughter]
So I got to college, I remembered that. And I was like, okay, so I'm gonna split my time between sustainability and the African student union. But it was like this split that I would go through, right? I would go over here to sustainability and be, you know, drum circles and love and mushrooms, [Laughter] and then I would go over here—No, okay, the kind you put in the ground, to be clear, right? [Laughter] The ones that soak up the oil. That's the mushrooms I'm talking about. [Laughter] Then I would come back over here—Then I would come back over here to the African student union and be listening to hip hop and talking about the legacy of slavery, and, you know, and the breastfeeding, and the breastfeeding is when you were a slave, and this connection to white people. And [INAUDIBLE] all of that, right? [Laughter]
But then sometimes I would forget where I was and I would come over here to the black folks and forget to flush the toilet and they would be like, [makes face] [Laughter] Girl, you nasty! What's you doing? And I would be like, Oh, Oh, that's right. You know. Or I'd go over to the sustainability crowd and be listening to Buster Rhymes or something super offensive, right? And they would just be like, [MAKES FACE] [Laughter] That's offensive to women. [Laughter]
So I didn't know my place. All of that was to say I was really busy searching for my place. I didn't know where to live. I didn't know where to be. I didn't know what to do.
And then I met this incredible human being named Van Jones [Applause] who came to speak at my college and started his speech by saying, This is the presentation Al Gore would have made had he been black. [Laughter] Say what? I'll take that speech. That's the one. That's the one I want.
So that's when I moved up to the Bay Area to work at Green For All. And I was in climate and energy for a little bit, but I remembered the food thing, you know. I remembered my heart. And when Van went to work at the White House, I had to go through this moment of really figuring out where I was gonna be.
There was an article in Time magazine, I think in 2010, about how all of—how not all of but quite a few environmentalists were jumping ship into the food movement. That was me. I was—I was one of those that the article was referring to. And so I went to work in food.
13:46 NARRATION 6 - Lead to Mid Break (00:39)
Nikki Henderson bridges the social justice and environmental movements through food – she co-taught an edible education course at UC Berkeley with best selling author Michael Pollan. Her work with Slow Food USA prompted President Josh Viertel to recognize her as “an extraordinary leader with a vision for how food and urban farming can be tools of empowerment.”
Nikki Henderson believes in the healing power of food. When we return, she invites everyone to the table.
This is “Flavors of a Whole Community: Ingredients for Food Justice.”
I'm Neil Harvey. You are listening to The Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature.
14:25 MID BREAK
14:25 NARRATION 7 (00:42)
To explore all available Bioneers radio shows and video programming, please visit media.bioneers.org
At the intersection of 7th and Market Street, beside the 880 freeway, in West Oakland, California, sits the office of People’s Grocery. The location is humble. But the building demonstrates a commitment to sustainability, inside and out. The roof is covered in solar panels. Colorful murals wrap around the building celebrating the indigenous history of the Ohlone people who gathered food beside the Bay, as well as current food justice struggles of the African American community of West Oakland. This is where “food” and “justice” come together for Nikki Henderson.
15:07 Henderson 5 (03:30)
One of the things I love about food is that it's grounding. It calls for presence. And when I'm present to the moment right now, we're in one of our cycles as a country where we're fairly divided, or at least that's how I feel. It's hard for me to know who's telling the truth. I feel angry sometimes. I shake when I listen to the radio. I get scared for our president. There's all these things that I feel, and I feel like when I talk to people, what I hear is that we don't trust each other. The hundreds of millions of us that live in this country, we're actually brothers and sisters in the same way that we're brothers and sisters with everyone in the world. [Applause] But…we are.
But we're not feeling that family love right now. We don't trust each other. We're lying to each other, to each other, not just one or the other. And we're not vulnerable. We've lost our vulnerability and we've lost our trust. And a lot of us are terrified. That's what I feel right now.
And all I can think about is what can restore that kind of trust, if we ever had it? But how did—How can millions of people who are so different from each other trust each other? What is it going to take to heal the breakdown that's happening right now? Food. [Laughter] That's where I go in my mind.
'Cause if you look at food, food is this beautiful way of building community, and it feels so simple but trust, this is complicated, right? Because it goes from family to community to everybody else, as far as I'm concerned. All you got to do is start with family. Mm hmm…[Laughter] You know that aunt or uncle I'm talking about, the one that you just don't get into that political conversation with. [Laughter] You know who I'm talking about. Maybe try, over some darn good food. That's helped me a lot.
When I realized that if I can't talk to my family—my family—if I can't talk to my family, how in the world am I gonna talk to my brothers and sisters who live in different cities in different areas that I don't understand, if I can't understand my family. So part of my activism now is family activism, and using the dinner table and family gatherings as spaces to test and practice my ability to love, deeply and fiercely. 'Cause if I can do that, then I can actually go to People's Grocery and do some work. Right? And not be a hypocrite. Not to say that if you don't get along with every cousin and aunt and uncle and you go out and try to love people you're a hypocrite. It's just a darn good place to practice. That's all I'm saying.
18:37 NARRATION 8 (0:14)
And it doesn’t hurt to practice over a darn good meal. Nikki Henderson was already part of the food justice movement when she came to work at the People’s Grocery. But she was about to take it to a whole new level.
18:51 Henderson 6a (01:21)
I inherited People's Grocery from [sounds like: Amadi] and Malika Edwards, many of whom you know. [Applause] Yes. Yes. They're kind of—They're the legacy that I come from. And People's Grocery was this incredible organization that I looked up to when I first got there. And when Brahm [ph] asked me to apply to be the executive director, I thought he must be crazy. What? I can't do that. I don't know [Laughs] what it takes to be an executive director. But one of the beautiful things about People's Grocery is its commitment to the next generation of leadership. Brahm said, You can do it; I was no older than you when I started this organization, and if we can't have a young black woman who I know can do a darn good job at this be the executive director, then what the heck are we here for? Period. [Applause] And I've never forgotten that.
Their faith in me and their trust in me is the only reason I'm standing on this stage. My mentors…Van and Phaedra[ph] and everyone else who trained me. And so I feel like that's kind of the spirit of People's Grocery. That's what it does. It's this place in the middle of West Oakland that spreads love and spreads joy, brings the community together to celebrate.
20:12 Narration 9 (00:24)
People’s Grocery provides a cornucopia of services. It manages a greenhouse at a low-income housing development; sponsors cross cultural workshops to illuminate our food system failures and co-create better access; supports community-based solutions to food insecurity with catering companies and cooking classes. And... the People’s Grocery grows food.
20:36 18:51 Henderson 6b (00:24)
I can talk about all the nitty gritty and the what we do around the food enterprise and public health and health projects,
What we do is wonderful, but how we do it is what people remember, because People's Grocery has got heart. We have got soul. And we love.
21:00 NARRATION 10 (00:37)
At People’s Grocery you’ll meet young people, new stewards of the land taking soil samples to test for toxins, as they prepare a native plant garden. But you might also encounter a muscular cop from the Oakland police department having a serious conversation with Henderson. Is there trouble? Listen closer and you’ll hear the cop say “I love what you're doing here, I wanna help.”
Encounters like that don't magically materialize out of thin air, they're the result of Nikki Henderson’s hard work melting the barriers of fear, healing divides, and creating unexpected yet essential alliances.
21:37 Henderson 6c (00:32)
We try to bring people together across difference and make sure all of us can build a healthy food system together. And part of building that community is the fact that that is the way to actually heal what's going on in our country right now. Bring people together over dinner, talk to each other, laugh, learn, love. That's what we do at People's Grocery, and that's actually what food justice is about.
22:09 NARRATION 11 (00:15)
Nikki Henderson comes from a strong lineage of community involvement and multicultural history. She has brought her multi-cultural heritage – African American, Native American and white – with her into the wider community.
22:24 Henderson 7 (01:06)
But one of the reasons why—one of the connections about why I do it is because
It brings together everything that I am. The part of me that watched my foster brother get murdered when I was 15. It's that part of me. The part of me that hears the stories about my interracial great grandparents who had to flee the South to be together, because a white man and a black woman back then was not so nice for everybody. I have warriors in my family, in my life. So…that is why I'm in service, to honor them and to honor those who came before me.
And what I wanted to end with was a piece of me, because part of how I'm in service now is honoring my grandfather and honoring my great grandfather with song. And he was the one who taught me to sing.
23:30 Music (00:04)
23:34 “SHOW ME” (01:35)
25:10 NARRATION 12 (00:16)
That’s Nikki Henderson artist, musician and Executive Director of Oakland’s People’s Grocery. Singing “Show Me” with her music partner_______.
“Flavors of a Whole Community: Ingredients for Food Justice”.
25:26 Music fade (00:12)
25:38 Bioneers BXIII - Program Close/Credits (1:35)
You can explore more Bioneers radio shows and video programming online at media.bioneers.org. For information on attending the National Bioneers Conference and Bioneers events in your area, please visit bioneers.org or call 1-877-BIONEER.
The Bioneers: Revolution From the Heart of Nature is a production of Bioneers and Collective Heritage Institute.
Executive Producer: Kenny Ausubel
Written by Catherine Stifter and Kenny Ausubel, with special thanks to Arty Mangan
Senior Producer: Neil Harvey
Managing Producer: Stephanie Welch
Production Management and Station Relations: Kate Hunter
Distribution is by WFMT Radio Network
Our theme music is taken from the album "Journey Between" by Baka Beyond and used by permission of Hannibal Records, a Rykodisc label.
The opinions expressed in The Bioneers Revolution from the Heart of Nature radio series are those of the presenters and are not necessarily those of Bioneers and Collective Heritage Institute, the underwriters, or this radio station.
My name is Neil Harvey. Thank you for listening. I invite you to join the Bioneers in inspiring a shift to live on Earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other and future generations.
This is program number 06-13
27:13 Closing underwriting narration (00:38)
This program was made possible in part by:
Organic Valley Family of Farms. Organic and family-owned since 1988. Visit organicvalley.coop.
Mary’s Gone Crackers, healing the planet through conscious eating. Gluten Free and vegan products sine 1999. Learn more at marysgonecrackers.com.
John Master’s Organics. Feel good about looking good. Visit johnmasters.com
Funding also provided by a grant from The Park Foundation - dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues.
And by the generous support of listeners like you.