Prior to 2009, residents of West Oakland had to drive or take public transit to get groceries, or else resort to dollar stores and liquor stores for their grocery needs. Some might call it a food desert. Mandela Grocery calls it a site of “food apartheid” — that is, a place where systemic racism has shaped the neighborhood’s lack of access to fresh food.
Now, the worker-owned grocery store is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The anniversary comes at a time when the co-op is undergoing a lot of exciting change. The market was recently renovated and got a brand-new logo. And since long-term subletter Zella’s Soulful Kitchen moved, Mandela Grocery has taken over the space’s commercial kitchen, called The Co-op Kitchen. It offers a selection of grab-and-go sandwiches like turkey cheddar and chickpea salad, plus coffee. Plans are in the works to offer green smoothies, espresso drinks, hot foods like rotisserie chicken, and plenty of plant-based options.
“It feels like a new beginning with all the transition that we’re in,” said Adrionna Fike, one of the co-op’s 10 worker-owners.
The 10-year celebration takes place this Friday, 3-8 p.m., on Center Street between Seventh and Eighth streets in Oakland (across from West Oakland BART). The free party will feature around 15 food vendors and live music. The Pop Up Village, in the process of becoming a worker co-op, will be making an appearance. Booths will include healing massage, acupuncture, yoga, herbal medicine, cooking demonstrations, blender-bike smoothies, a women’s refuge trailer, free books, free barbers, and more. There will be free vision screening and glasses for kids 5-18 (or 24 in continuation school.)
Meanwhile, Mandela Grocery is also helping to spread the model of the worker-owned cooperative grocery store. In order to support new cooperatives, Mandela Grocery will offer training programs in its store for the members of a new grocery cooperative currently known as The East Oakland Grocery Co-op. The new cooperative is spearheaded by Aya Jeffers-Fabro of Acta Non Verba, an urban youth farming program in Deep East Oakland. The store will carry produce from Acta Non Verba’s urban farms right in East Oakland. While Fike said the cooperative is still searching for a location, the store is expected to open in fall 2020.