by Jerry Barclay – After two-plus years of on/off negotiations for the operation of the Grand Lake Farmers Market at Splash Pad Park, a long-sought agreement between the Agricultural Institute of Marin (AIM) and the City of Oakland is expected to be completed in early 2021. One last issue has delayed a deal, but that appears to be resolved. More on that later, but first some background.
As specified in its mission statement, AIM is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to educate, inspire, and connect communities with responsible farmers and producers as part of a healthy, equitable, local and regional food system. The City selected AIM to be the operator when the weekly Saturday market started in 1998 in the parking lot under 580. After Splash Pad Park was redeveloped and opened in 2003 (a story unto itself), the market moved into the park and became even more successful as a community gathering place for fresh produce, specialty products, and live entertainment attracting people from all over Oakland and beyond. It is routinely recognized as the best farmers market in the East Bay.
Over a period of years, issues rose over operational problems associated with failure to mitigate impact to the park, AIM’s Marin-centric attitude and questionable commitment to the Oakland community. In 2017, as the City was preparing to issue a new five-year operating agreement with AIM, Ken Katz and I, as Chair of the Farmers Market Citizen’s Advisory Committee, persuaded Abel Guillén, City Councilmember for District 2 at the time, to refrain from signing off on the administration’s proposed agreement so that alternatives could be considered. With support from the Advisory Committee membership, Ken and I strongly advocated for the City to issue a Request for Proposal from qualified farmers market management companies, produced a draft of an RFP for the City to consider, and met with several council members who were interested in the issues. But in spring 2018 something surprising and significant happened.
Brigitte Moran, who had been the CEO of AIM since 2004, had never visited the Oakland market and sent representatives to important meetings with Councilmember Guillén, despite requests that she attend in person. In April 2018, Ms. Moran resigned. AIM’s Board of Directors clearly realized it had a serious problem with its Oakland market. Fortunately, after meeting with us and after conducting an extensive search, AIM’s recruitment consultant recommended Andy Naja-Riese, who has a strong background in nutrition assistance and community agriculture programs–including a stint as Western Regional Manager for the SNAP program–to be AIM’s new CEO.
Andy has been a game-changer. He immediately reached out to forge a working relationship with the City and the community. In July 2018, Andy issued a letter to me as Chair of the Committee, a document that served as a Memorandum of Understanding of AIM’s commitments moving forward. AIM had agreed to most of what we were demanding; in exchange for AIM’s commitment, we agreed to drop our pursuit of the RFP and urged the City to enter into a five-year agreement with AIM.
While it has taken far longer than expected to reach a new agreement between AIM and the City, AIM has meanwhile demonstrated how it has become a true partner to the community and why it is the right organization to be operating this essential Oakland/Grand Lake community asset. The forthcoming agreement will be a better one for all parties.
The final issue that has held up the agreement pertains to responsibility for cleaning up hazardous materials: human feces and used hypodermic needles. Homelessness, mental illness, and substance abuse is a sad reality that all of us here in Oakland and throughout the Bay Area recognize. Splash Pad Park suffers from the impact of this tragic societal problem. and AIM’s market managers must deal with its effects every Saturday morning prior to setting up the market. The City wanted AIM to assume responsibility for cleaning up the hazmat, while AIM looked to the City to step up and take that responsibility, which Ken and I firmly believe it must. The solution that has been tentatively accepted by the City is for AIM to hire a qualified company to come to the park early Saturday mornings and clean up any hazmat. AIM will deduct the cost for these services from the monthly fee it pays to the City.
If all goes well the final agreement will be reviewed at a required Community Economic Development Committee meeting and then go to the City Council for final approval in late January.
Looking forward, with the new agreement in place–and, realistically, post-Covid–AIM and the Citizen’s Advisory Committee intend to work toward several goals, including establishing ongoing cross-promotions with local merchants and businesses, while also serving as an educational and cultural resource to families and residents.
For the full potential of the market to be realized we need more support and participation from local residents. If you are interested in joining or learning more about the Grand Lake Farmers Market Citizen’s Advisory Committee, which serves as a liaison between the community, AIM, and the City, please contact me at email@example.com.
Jerry is a graduate in architecture from UC Berkeley. After a long career in construction and real estate development–which included the redevelopment of Old Oakland, construction of Stern Grove, and a management role for the Christ the Light Cathedral–he is now happily retired. Jerry was appointed Chair of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee by Pat Kernighan in 2007. He and his wife, Caryn, have lived in the Grand Lake Neighborhood for thirty-seven years, and he is a regular shopper at the Grand Lake Farmers Market.