Letters for the Week of September 11 

Readers sound off on gentrification in Oakland, police corruption, and our use of the word eponymous.

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In fact, Phat Beets must raise money and write grants in order to keep healthful, fresh, organic produce at our farmers markets affordable to North Oakland residents, as well as to fund the jobs of historic residents who staff the market itself. These jobs are now being compromised, as are the economic opportunities of the farmers we support. The food justice approach we take in working in North Oakland, and the approach of Grease Box, whose food costs don't take into consideration historic residents, are drastically different. Unfortunately, Grease Box isn't the first such business that is symptomatic of a troubling gentrification pattern, and the North Oakland community can no longer afford to ignore it or merely refer to this process as the "G word."

Finally, we must remember that Phat Beets has no interest in fighting with Grease Box. It is merely a distraction for the food justice work we do and an obstacle for the North Oakland community-building, self-determination, and access to healthful food. We have been informed that our sublease will not be renewed by Grease Box and Lee, which means that the North Oakland Farmers Market will be moving. We heavily rely on the community's grassroots support to continue our work, so please make a donation to help us find a new space and continue our food justice work in Oakland for as long as it takes.

Support Healthy Food for All by supporting Phat Beets! Peace!

Josh Cadji, Susan Park, Kate Hubbell, Marika Iyer, Max Cadji, Amman Desai, Heather Leu, Brett Benner, Mickey Martin, and The Phat Beets Crew

Luke Tsai Responds

In the course of researching my story, I made multiple attempts to reach out to members of Phat Beets Produce. Their initial response was to send me a list of demands that would have to be met in order for them to speak with me: in particular, that members of the collective be granted anonymity and that they be allowed to see my story before publication (which the Express prohibits). Many of the issues mentioned in their rebuttal were brought up during a conversation that a Phat Beets collective member was only willing to have on condition of anonymity (which the Express ultimately did not think was warranted). In the end, the quotes presented in my story represent nearly the entirety of what Phat Beets members were willing to say on the record. I was asked specifically not to mention anything that was said during the earlier, anonymous interview.

I also did speak to Misako Kashima, an original collective member and one of the food vendors whose story Phat Beets has accused me of omitting (though I did, in fact, mention her unhappiness with Grease Box owner Lizzy Boelter's lack of communication with the building's other tenants). For the record, Kashima confirmed that she had already left the Crossroads Collective in March, well in advance of Grease Box's arrival. Finally, regarding Phat Beets members' assertion that the health department has given them the green light to restart their kitchen incubator program, I was unable to get anyone at the health department to confirm or deny this claim.

Fair Play

As one of the initial organizers of the Cafe/Kitchen/Farmer's Market Collective (later named the Crossroads Café) at 942 Stanford Ave, as well as part of the community, I would like to acknowledge the positive contributions that Phat Beets has made to our neighborhood. I question the hand that beats the anti-gentrification drum, but I experience their presence here as unequivocally healthy.

And although I was disappointed to see the Grease Box's prices catering to a very selective clientele, I do not blame Ms. Boelter for starting a business in my neighborhood.

My partnership with Michele Lee, Leon, Phat Beets, and the other collective members, however, was not a healthy one and I see a bit of this mess as a continuation of those early dynamics. For example, requests to make the financial accounting transparent were given the runaround. Verbal agreements to sign a cooperative agreement were never met. The delegation of responsibilities was not respected. Decisions were made unilaterally with the familiar refrains, "I am the leaseholder" and the ace in hole, "I am a black woman," as justification.

When presented with the offer that I would find a replacement leaseholder to relieve her of the liability exposure, Michele declined. At its inception, it was clearly a shifty foundation for any business to build upon, much less a "collective" or "cooperative" vision. I stepped out. There is certainly nothing wrong with hustling, doing what you gotta do, feeding your family, or bringing your ex-husband into the membership of a budding cooperative. As a father, I partner with my child's mother in the struggle to make ends meet.


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