West Oakland activist Dana Harvey has been honored by the White House as one of 11 “Champions of Change,” who’ve worked to improve healthy food access. Harvey helped bring farm fresh produce to West Oakland’s food desert as the executive director of Mandela MarketPlace, a network of community businesses that includes a grocery co-op, a produce distributor, and a youth group that brings fresh fruit and vegetables to local liquor stores.
Harvey tells KQED’s Nina Thorsen that she didn’t even know she was being considered for the White House honor–she had been quietly nominated by one of her staff members.
“When I got the email recognizing that I was getting this award, I sent it to one of my staff and I said, ‘Is this spam?’ Because I didn’t believe it.”
Harvey began working with the community to improve access to healthy food more than a decade ago. She says residents and stake holders told her, “what we need is community-owned businesses. We need to work with our corner markets. We need to support our minority farmers and we need to provide education to our community.”
Out of that grew Mandela MarketPlace.
“It’s great to have a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s… in your neighborhood,” Harvey said. “But if I don’t have access to transportation, and I don’t have access to a way to provide me an income with dignity, then I’m at the mercy of whatever is in my community. And if I have to shop cheap, then I’m buying boxed and frozen. And I’m not able to by bulk and fresh.”
Harvey and her colleagues are also working with neighbors in the unincorporated Ashland-Cherryland area of Hayward, who want to set up a similar market there. In the meantime, they’re planning to expand Mandela MarketPlace.
Champions of Change is a program created by the Obama Administration that recognizes community leaders from different industries every week.