Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 36, Issue 4, pp 793–804 | Cite as

Subverting the new narrative: food, gentrification and resistance in Oakland, California

  • Alison Hope AlkonEmail author
  • Yahya Josh Cadji
  • Frances Moore


Alternative food movements work to create more environmentally and economically sustainable food systems, but vary widely in their advocacy for social, racial and environmental justice. However, even those food justice activists explicitly dedicated to equity must respond to the unintended consequences of their work. This paper analyzes the work of activists in Oakland, CA, who have increasingly realized that their gardens, health food stores and farm-to-table restaurants play a role in what scholars have called green gentrification, the upscaling of neighborhoods through the creation of environmental amenities. Gentrification has had grave consequences for the low-income communities of color that food justice activists seek to serve. Activists are reflexive about this dynamic, and have developed strategies to push back against displacement. Most commonly, non-profit organizations and individual social entrepreneurs found businesses that seek to raise the profile of people of color in the trendy Oakland food scene while employing long-term residents in well-paying, green jobs. However, while these efforts are an essential component of a broader agenda to create both food justice and development without displacement, even these relatively high paying (when compared to the industry standard) “good food jobs” cannot keep up with escalating rents. For this reason, we also highlight the direct action and policy-oriented strategies engaged by a smaller number of food justice activists, and argue that these are necessary compliments to a market-based approach.


Food justice Urban development Gentrification Race Entrepreneurship Jobs Policy 



The authors would like to thank all of the food justice activists and Oakland community members who agreed to be interviewed for this research.


  1. Abarca, M. 2006. Voices in the Kitchen: Views of Food and the World from Working-Class Mexican and Mexican American Women. College Station, TX: Texas A&M Press.Google Scholar
  2. Agyeman, J., A.H. Alkon, and M. McCullagh. 2014. Silence is not Consent: Plantations, Poison and the Politics of Planning for Urban Agriculture in Boston. Accessed 5 July 2017.
  3. Alkon, A.H. 2012. Black White and Green: Farmers Markets, Race and the Green Economy. Athens, GA: UGA Press.Google Scholar
  4. Alkon, A., and J. Cadji. 2018. Sowing Seeds of Displacement: Gentrification and Food Justice in Oakland, CA. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. Scholar
  5. Alkon, A., and J. Guthman. 2017. The New Food Activism: Opposition, Cooperation and Collective Action. Berkeley, CA: UC Press.Google Scholar
  6. Applied Survey Research. 2015. San Francisco Homeless Point-in Time Count and Survey. Accessed 27 July 2017.
  7. Bagwell, B. 1982. Oakland: The Story of a City. Oakland: Oakland Heritage Alliance.Google Scholar
  8. Bond-Graham, D. 2017. Some Oakland Landlords are Using a Legal Loophole to Exempt Housing from Rent Control. The East Bay Express, September 13. Accessed 15 Mar 2018.
  9. Burnett, K. 2014. Commodifying Poverty: Gentrification and Consumption in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Urban Geography 35 (2): 157–176.Google Scholar
  10. Cadji, J., and A.H. Alkon. 2014. “One Day, the White People are Going to Want These Houses Again”: Understanding Gentrification Through the North Oakland Farmers Market. In Incomplete Streets, ed. S. Zavetoski and J. Agyeman. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Clarke, K. 2014. Brokers give Gentrification a Push by Opening Coffee Shops in Harlem. Daily News. Accessed 27 July 2017.
  12. Causa Justa/Just Cause. Nd. Development Without Displacement. Accessed 18 Dec 2018.
  13. Crouch, P. 2012. Evolution or Gentrification: Do Urban Farms Lead to Higher Rents? Grist. Accessed 30 May 2017.
  14. Dooling, S. 2009. Ecological Gentrification: A Research Agenda Exploring Justice in the City. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 33 (3): 621–639.Google Scholar
  15. Fairlie, R., and A. Robb. 2008. Race and Entrepreneurial Success. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  16. Furman Center. 2016. Gentrification Response A Survey of Strategies to Maintain Neighborhood Economic Diversity. New York: New York University.Google Scholar
  17. Gilbert, J., G. Sharp, and S. Felin. 2002. The Loss and Persistence of Black-Owned Farms and Farmland: A Review of the Research Literature and Its Implications. Southern Rural Sociology 18: 1–30.Google Scholar
  18. Glaser, B., and A. Strauss. 1999. The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. Glowa, K.M. 2017. Urban Agriculture, Food Justice and Neoliberal Urbanization: Rebuilding the Institution of Property. In The New Food Activism, ed. A. Alkon and J. Guthman. Berkeley, CA: UC Press.Google Scholar
  20. Gould, K., and T. Lewis. 2016. Green Gentrificaiton: Urban Sustainability and the Struggle for Environmental Justice. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Haber, M. 2014. Oakland: Brooklyn by the Bay. The New York Times, May 2. Accessed 15 Mar 2018.
  22. Hackworth, J., and N. Smith. 2001. The Changing State of Gentrification. Journal of Economic and Social Geography 92 (4): 464–477.Google Scholar
  23. Hern, M. 2017. What is a City For? Remaking the Politics of Displacement. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  24. Hislop, R. 2014. Reaping Equity Across the USA: FJ Organizations Observed at the National Scale. MA thesis, Department of Community and Regional Development, University of California-Davis, Davis, CA.Google Scholar
  25. Horst, M., N. McClintock, and L. Hoey. 2017. The Intersection of Planning, Urban Agriculture, and Food Justice: A Review of the Literature. Journal of the American Planning Association 83 (3): 277–295.Google Scholar
  26. Hyde, Z. 2014. Omnivorous Gentrification: Restaurant Reviews and Neighborhood Change in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. City & Community 13 (4): 341–359.Google Scholar
  27. Johnson, M. 1996. The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay in World War II. Berkeley: UC Press.Google Scholar
  28. Kohli, S. 2015. Developers have Found the Secret Sauce for Gentrifying. Quartz. Accessed 27 July 2017.
  29. Lees, L., T. Slater, and E. Wyly. 2007. Gentrification. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. Markham, L. 2014. Gentrification and the Urban Garden. The New Yorker. Accessed 5 July 2017.
  31. Massey, B. 2017. DC’s Urban Farms Wrestle with Gentrification and Displacement. Civil Eats. Accessed 27 July 2017.
  32. McClintock, N. 2011. From Industrial Garden to Food Desert: Demarcated Devaluation in the Flatlands of Oakland, California. In Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class and Sustainability, ed. A. Alkon and J. Agyeman, 89–120. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  33. McClintock, N. 2013. Radical, Reformist and Garden-Variety Neoliberal: Coming to Terms with Urban Agriculture’s Contradictions. Local Environment 19 (2): 141–171.Google Scholar
  34. McClintock, N. 2017. Cultivating (a) Sustainability Capital: Urban Agriculture, Eco-gentrification and the Uneven Valorization of Social Reproduction. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 108 (2): 579–590.Google Scholar
  35. Meyers, J. 2013. East New York Farms!: Food Justice as a Culture of Resistance. Los Angeles, CA: American Association of Geographers.Google Scholar
  36. Minkoff-Zern, L., and S. Sloat. 2016. A New Era of Civil Rights? Latino Immigrant Farmers and Exclusion at the United States Department of Agriculture. Agriculture and Human Values 29: 381–392.Google Scholar
  37. Minkoff-Zern, L., N. Peluso, J. Sowerwine, and C. Getz. 2011. Race and Regulation: Asian Immigrants in California Agriculture. In Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability, ed. A.H. Alkon and J. Agyeman, 65–86. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  38. Mollison, B. 1997. Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.Google Scholar
  39. Ospina, T. 2015. Racially Profiled, Drummers Make Noise about Gentrification in Oakland. Accessed 4 July 2017.
  40. Policy Link. 2016. Oakland’s Displacement Crisis: As Told by the Numbers.’s%20Displacement%20Crisis%20by%20the%20numbers.pdf. Accessed 5 July 2017.
  41. Quastel, N. 2009. Political Ecologies of Gentrification. Urban Geography 30 (7): 694–725.Google Scholar
  42. Raja, S., D. Picard, S. Baek, and C. Delgado. 2014. Rustbelt Radicalism: A Decade of Food Systems Planning in Buffalo, New York (USA). Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development 4 (4): 173–189.Google Scholar
  43. Ray, K. 2016. The Ethnic Restauranteur. New York: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  44. Reynolds, K., and N. Cohen. 2016. Beyond the Kale. Athens, GA: UGA Press.Google Scholar
  45. Rose, K., and M. Lin. 2015. A Roadmap Toward Equity: Housing Solutions for Oakland, CA. Policy Link. Accessed 18 Dec 2018.
  46. Self, R. 2005. American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Shaw, W. 2007. Cities of Whiteness. Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  48. Shaw, A.R. 2015. Whites who Gentrified Oakland are Calling the Police on Innocent Black Residents. Rolling Out. Accessed 5 July 2017.
  49. Slater, T. 2006. The Eviction of Critical Perspectives from Gentrification Research. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 30 (4): 737–757.Google Scholar
  50. Smith, N. 2008[1982]. Uneven Development: Nature, Capital and the Production of Space. Athens, GA: UGA Press.Google Scholar
  51. Stanko, H., and L. Naylor. 2018. Facilitating (?) urban agriculture in Philadelphia. Local Environment 23 (4): 468–484.Google Scholar
  52. Stehlin, J., and A. Tarr. 2016. Think Regionally, Act Locally? Gardening, Cycling and the Horizon of Urban Spatial Politics. Urban Geography 38 (9): 1329–1351.Google Scholar
  53. Sullivan, D., and S.C. Shaw. 2011. Retail Gentrification and Race: The Case of Alberta Street in Portland, Oregon. Urban Affairs Review 47 (3): 413–432.Google Scholar
  54. Walker, R. 2001. Industry Builds the City: The Suburbanization of Manufacturing in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1850-1940. Journal of Historical Geography 27: 36–57.Google Scholar
  55. White, M. 2019. Freedom Farmers. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press.Google Scholar
  56. Williams-Forson, P. 2006. Building Houses out of Chicken Bones. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press.Google Scholar
  57. Zavetovski, S., and J. Agyeman. 2014. Incomplete Streets. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Zukin, S. 2010. Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of the PacificStocktonUSA
  2. 2.Phat Beets ProduceOaklandUSA
  3. 3.Self Help Hunger ProgramOaklandUSA

Personalised recommendations