Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle met DSAL’s founders, Hilary Bass and Captain Marty Neideffer (then a Lieutenant), in 2012, when Valle was running for the District Two Supervisor seat. The three connected immediately over the need to divert people—especially youth—away from the criminal justice system. Valle was also enthusiastic about DSAL’s plans to improve public safety through urban farming at Dig Deep Farms by growing healthy produce for the community while also creating jobs and internship opportunities for youth and formerly incarcerated people.
“I thought the farm was a unique way of inviting young people in to understand farming and food and how fresh food gets to the table,” said Valle. “It was a great alternative for young people who are looking for a sense of direction.”
“The way they structured Dig Deep is aligned with what I've done all of my life with young people in Union City around recycling and also what we've done with Raising Leaders, an initiative that provides jobs and internships at Tri-CED Recycling,” he said. Tri-CED Community Recycling was founded by Valle more than 25 years ago to employ at-risk youth and provide union jobs for local residents.
Valle ended up winning the election, and as the District Two Supervisor, he has partnered with DSAL and other community-based organizations to solve a range of long-standing issues, with a particular focus on youth development, employment, and training. Valle received the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award and the Chabot College Gladiator Award for his innovative approach to helping at-risk youth and his dedication to his community.
Digging deep at Masonic Homes
It can take time to implement the changes that are needed to create a better, more sustainable, more resilient approach to serving the community’s needs. It also requires innovators like Valle to connect the dots and build the cross-sector partnerships that are necessary for long-term, systemic change.
Such is the case at Masonic Homes of California, an historic, 200-acre property built originally to care for Masonic widows and orphans. The campus is home to 400 residents, and it hosts two full-time kitchens, “so there was a lot of waste going on with regard to food,” according to Valle.
“Twenty five years ago, Tri-CED was asked to audit the property’s waste stream,” said Valle. “Next door to the Masons, there is a horse ranch, and the city was complaining that the horse ranch was dumping manure into the hillside, which interfered with the water runoff. That was an ongoing complaint.”
“When we did our assessment of the Masonic Home's needs, we put the two together—blending their food waste with the manure to create compost. We eliminated a large element of waste and garbage that the Masons were paying for, and then we created a solution for the city and for the horse ranch to use the manure for more productive purposes.”
The “more productive purposes” included farming, and that “opened up the door for a partnership with Dig Deep Farms,” according to Valle.
There’s just one more hurdle in the way of Dig Deep Farms initiating farming on ten acres of land at Masonic Homes: digging a well, but Valle is leading that effort, too. His office will share the costs with the Sheriff’s Office and the Masons to pay for building a well on the property.
“We signed an MOU with the Masons and Dig Deep Farms, and we are at the funding level, so we're nearly there,” said Valle.
Hitting gold at Ardenwood Historic Farm
Local agriculture plays a key role in the Sheriff’s comprehensive Community Capitals Policing initiative, which improves public safety by investing in Alameda County’s unincorporated communities and creating jobs and opportunities for small businesses. Urban farming jobs that pay a living wage are also a critical element of the County Probation Department’s commitment to create jobs for 1,400 people on probation, so when ACSO and DSAL saw an opportunity for Dig Deep Farms to engage in organic heritage farming on 60 acres at the East Bay Park District’s 205-acre Ardenwood Historic Farms in Fremont, they jumped at it. Although the initial proposal was rejected, Valle’s continued advocacy for the Dig Deep Farms proposal eventually resulted in a win for Dig Deep Farms—and the community.
“Dig Deep was competing for the Ardenwood contract, so we collectively put our heads together—the Sheriff's Office, District Two, and Dig Deep—to work with the East Bay Regional Park District and the Board of Directors to take a different approach,” said Valle. “Instead of trying to make money off the land, we wanted to try to create jobs for youth and then use the food to supplement people's diets with good, healthy food grown here in South County, where there is very little locally grown fresh food that is being sold in our stores.”
“We hit gold with Ardenwood,” he said. “They heard our message, so now we are embarking on two fronts: Dig Deep at the Masons' property and Dig Deep at Ardenwood. It's a huge undertaking on both ends, but that's the kind of challenge, I think, that will allow Dig Deep to grow and create more jobs.”
“Captain Neideffer and Hilary Bass have created a model that's very unique to Alameda County, and it takes individuals like them to move a mountain and create the momentum that creates change,” said Valle. “Their credibility was sealed when the Sheriff himself said, ‘I'm going to let them do what they need to do,’ because he could see the impact that they were making in neighborhoods, and that made all the difference.”