Most people have heard or used the slang, "Eat grub" as an off-hand reference to chowing down on food. Yet "EAT GRUB" has a much greater significance to Salvador Mateo and classmate/friend Julio Madrigal, who transformed the simple phrase into "Enhancing Access To Gardens and Revoluntionizing Urban Backyards", as their joint social entrepreneurship venture. Under the mentorship of Planting Justice co-founders Haleh Zandi and Gavin Raders, and alongside their fellow SLWRP peers, Sal and Julio successfully built a raised, annual, organic vegetable garden and planted 10 fruit trees at Mandela HS - a first for the urban campus. The team took their work and new found skills one step further, though, by participating in Ashoka Youth Venture's 10 week food justice program and developing a business enterprise that will give back to their East Oakland community: "The vision of EAT GRUB is to eliminate community food deserts in Oakland. Our mission is to establish a greener community and provide connections to the Earth and our ancestors by enhancing the accessibility of healthy foods through building raised garden beds for low-income families in Oakland... This issue is important to us because food is a human right, people should be able to access it without a problem but in this world it's hard to do."
Sal and Julio's work was deeply inspired by their school, their friends, and their own food-related challenges growing up. Sal was raised in a home where his mother had to work two jobs to support her children, after her husband was deported back to Mexico. Exhausted by her long hours, she didn't have much energy leftover to cook - nor did the family have much money to take the bus to a Farmer Joe's or other good grocery store with ample produce. And so the family relied on what was available - convenience stores, fast food - until the mother was later deported herself. Although Julio grew up in a family that had better access to fruits and vegetables, they were conventionally grown ones, never organic. He was shocked and outraged when he learned the chemical processes by which most agriculture in the U.S. is grown - and the harmful effects it can have on people's health, even when they're eating "fresh" produce. Both of these stories fueled the team to learning everything they could from Planting Justice about organic gardening, as well as about environmental racism and food deserts from their own research; the idea for EAT GRUB was born.
EAT GRUB's venture is to build annual, organic vegetable gardens for full-paying clients in their community, in order to provide the same service, at no charge, to low-income families. Having completed an extensive survey of many families and individuals within their community about access to food and eating habits, Sal and Julio plan to start building free gardens for those who are farthest from healthy, well-stocked grocery stores. "Our venture will benefit the community by bringing gardens to the backyards of families who don't have access to healthy foods in their neighborhoods. This will reduce diet-related diseases such as type II diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. This will also allow people to save money at the grocery store and in transportation costs. This venture will further reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the community by reducing the use of pesticides and fossil fuels in the transportation of food."
On Sunday, March 27, 2011, Sal and Julio presented the final draft of their venture to an audience of fellow Ashoka participants, local supporters, and an extensive panel of youth activists, experts in food justice, and social entrepreneurs at The David Brower Center, in Berkeley. Dressed smartly in business suits, Sal and Julio spoke about their work with great confidence, clarity, and eloquence. Of the ten groups who presented at Ashoka's Community Panel that day, EAT GRUB was one of two who were unconditionally awarded $1,000 in seed money (other teams were awarded the same seed money, with conditions). "I'm so proud of them!" beamed their SLWRP teacher, Pam Zimmerman. "They've worked so hard for this." Other Mandela teachers, including the Principal, Robin Glover, were also in attendance, and EVERYONE was grinning ear to ear :)
As for Sal and Julio - EarthTeam was able to catch up with them the following day, at Mandela, and ask about their spirits: "Glowing," Sal reported. Both he and Julio are busily training interns to assist them with their venture, especially as both will be attending college come the fall. Julio was accepted into St Mary's College, to focus on International Studies, while Sal plans to stay a little more local by attending community college and focusing on his gardens. SLWRP and EarthTeam are both extremely proud of their work, and we wish them the very best in all of their future endeavors and successes!