SoJo Spotlight: Nikki Henderson & People’s Grocery

Izzy Elliot, Guest Writer

People’s Grocery works within the predominantly low-income community of West Oakland, addressing a wide range of social issues through food.  The organization connects West Oakland residents with everything from cooking classes to a greenhouse enterprise.  Nikki Henderson, the executive director of People’s Grocery, came to speak at Guilford College last week, hosted by the Bonner Center for Community Learning.  With a wonderful sense of humor, Henderson recounted the development of her own relationship with healthy food, her eclectic upbringing and her work with People’s Grocery.

She discussed how people tend to focus on the “sexiness” of production – putting their efforts into developing urban/community farms and gardens – as opposed to retail, which is less glamorous, but makes more money.  While People’s Grocery is involved in urban agriculture programs, they have piloted retail projects and are working on opening a 15,000 square foot grocery store, which will serve the community of West Oakland when it opens later this year.

Henderson touched on the food justice movement’s intersection with race and class, describing problems that arise when collaborating with predominantly white organizations that want to work in communities such as West Oakland.  People’s Grocery’s careful approach provides a model that other groups, food-justice related or otherwise, can apply to their own frameworks. People’s Grocery’s Allyship Program is one that encourages open and honest discussion of issues relevant to the food justice movement, white privilege and the West Oakland community.

Henderson also discussed her experience in visiting Greensboro and how it is a city that reflects what America often ignores: food deserts, poverty, and segregation. These issues are common in cities across the nation but can be lost in a glorification of the ‘progressive’ and attractive coasts.  Guilford College, as a unique space of learning and communication within the Greensboro community, holds the ability to promote social change on campus, city and state-wide levels.

As Henderson reminded the group who gathered in Bryan Jr. auditorium, food justice is not just about healthy or organic eating.  It is a movement that holds the potential to bring about environmental change, greater health and increased economic development on both local and global scales.

For more about Nikki Henderson and People’s Grocery, visit http://www.peoplesgrocery.org/.

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