Staff member Cesar prepares plants for an online order at the Planting Justice nursery in Oakland, Calif.

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The Planting Justice nursery is in a neighborhood of Deep East Oakland called Sobrante Park.


Sobrante Park is a mostly black and Latino community, with only one road in and out. Railroad tracks mark Sobrante Park’s borders to the north and east. To the west, highway I-880 heaves with freight trucks and industrial traffic. To the south, the city uses harmful pesticides to prevent weeds from growing in the concrete basin of the San Leandro Creek. Its proximity to polluting industry and alienation from the rest of the city create grounds for concern. While once on the frontlines of the War on Drugs waged against poor communities of color in the late twentieth century, Sobrante Park today stands on the frontlines of the climate crisis.


Through urban farming and local hiring, Planting Justice is building a movement by and for the people of Sobrante Park at the intersections of food justice, economic transformation, and community restoration. In rewriting the narrative of Deep East Oakland, many of the men on staff are also rewriting their personal legacies -- one half of the men employed at Planting Justice have criminal convictions.


The following portraits, accompanied by quotes, illustrate that community healing begins with individual healing -- and individual healing can begin with a farm. 

“Planting Justice helped me while I was in San Quentin. It meant a lot to know that there was an opportunity for me once I got out. I’ve since gone to juvenile halls and helped them build raised beds. I’ve spoken at schools. I’m trusted here. Six months in, they gave me the keys to everything - trucks, you name it. I hope that I’ve broken the cycle.” - George

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"I play the lottery because I wanna give Planting Justice money to hire more people and to buy another nursery so we can show people how to grow their own food. I want there to be a garden in every Oakland high school, so our youth know where their food is coming from." - Anthony

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“The best part of coming to work every day is getting to be a connector for the community and learning something new everyday. I’m glad that the nursery can be accessible to people in the city. We need the community to make this work possible.” - Joseph

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“Coming here and working with the plants takes a little bit of stress off of me. It’s crazy because you wouldn’t think that, coming from where we’re from. We’re so used to having to fight: arguing with people, dealing with the stupidity of our society. When you find something positive -- and especially something positive that you can kick back with -- it kind of takes you back.” - CJ

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“I want to be positive. It’s about energy, really. I come to work and choose to be positive, instead of choosing violence, taking someone’s money, or hurting somebody. I’m gainfully employed. That’s what drives me and keeps me out of trouble.” - Otis

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“It means a lot to me to be able to work in the community where I live. Not having to commute lets me live a green lifestyle and be a climate activist outside of my environmental work. It’s a little victory, but also a big victory. I want the opportunity to be extended to more people in Sobrante Park.” - Cesar

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“I want to be thinking about something bigger than me. Before, I was thinking about just me and I got institutionalized. If I’m thinking about other people, there’s no time for shenanigans. If I’m thinking about someone besides myself, I know I’m growing.” - Bilal

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“Nothing stops a bullet like a job. It can be hard to tackle the prison industrial system, but we can stop people from getting in that system. We can stop supplying the prisons with slave labor.” - Patrick

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“My word for 2019 would be: ‘Let’s get it.’” - Luis Jr.

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Luis Jr. looks for avocados at the Planting Justice nursery in Oakland, Calif.

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“I used to work with metals. It literally was a toxic workplace. One day when I was driving home on the freeway, I looked over and saw that someone had built a greenhouse. I passed it a few more times before I decided to just see what was going on. I think that coming here helped me make the lifestyle change I needed, and helped me be a better example for my son.” - Jose

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“What I like about this place is that you can come here and plant a seed. We can plant seeds for the youth, too, but we need to have hard conversations with them to help them grow.” - Eloy

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Volunteer Beth, left, helps staff member Andrew level a plot of dirt at Planting Justice's four-arce farm in El Sobrante, Calif.

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