Monday, January 30, 2012

People's Grocery Goes Solar

By Jesse Hirsch
Mon, Jan 30, 2012 at 12:37 PM

While People’s Grocery in West Oakland fights to attain economic sustainability, the food justice nonprofit made a different type of sustainable leap last week: solar panels were installed on the roof to provide 100% of their electricity.

The panels were provided at no cost to People’s Grocery by Berkeley-based crowd sourcing platform Solar Mosaic. Seventy disparate funders coughed up almost $40,000 for the project, including one top-secret “celebrity investor” (Michael Pollan? Kim Kardashian?). The energy savings accrued by People’s Grocery’s landlords will be returned to investors over the lifetime of the lease.

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“This is great stuff,” said People’s Grocery executive director Nikki Henderson. “It’s all about creating sustainable communities, and showing how food is tied in with water, transportation, and energy.”

Even if you’re weary of feature stories that gush about the crowd-sourced funding model, it continues to be an effective way for dreamers to finance lofty projects. People’s Grocery was one of a handful of Oakland nonprofits chosen to receive the Solar Mosaic treatment, including the Asian Resource Center in Chinatown and St. Vincent de Paul (which is still in the midst of raising funds).

Solar Mosaic couldn’t have picked a better recipient than People’s Grocery, a tireless community advocate with a sprawling, multi-tiered set of programs. These initiatives combat food insecurity and general oppression in low-income neighborhoods; educate people on urban agriculture at a quarter-acre West Oakland garden and greenhouse; provide healthy home cooking, nutrition, and composting instruction; and arrange opportunities to purchase organic and natural foods at wholesale prices.

People’s Grocery has long tried to launch an affiliated grocery store called People’s Community Market, a for-profit method to achieve long-term economic sustainability. Henderson said they’re far from receiving adequate investments to launch the store (they need roughly $1.5 million), but the success of the Solar Mosaic project gives her hope. “Socially conscious investors are out there, I have no doubt,” she said. “None.”

The People’s Grocery solar panels arrive on the heels of another Oakland project — the Noble Café — at the intersection of food and sustainable energy. Opened on January 9, the café is being lauded as the first carbon-neutral coffee shop in the country. It uses energy-efficient equipment, on-site composting, and carbon offset payouts to strive for a lofty zero-carbon goal. The city of Oakland shelled out $55,000 to help owner Dimitri Thompson start the café.

Comments? Tips? Get in touch at Jesse.Hirsch@EastBayExpress.com.

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