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Food, Social Justice & Lifelong Skills

Fresh veggies from Dig Deep Farms
Food has the power to heal us. It is the most potent tool we have to help prevent and treat many of our chronic diseases.

– Dr. Mark Hyman

Meet Humberto Ramirez - Urban Farmer at Dig Deep Farms

Dig Deep Farms is a social enterprise built with support from the DSAL and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office to grow healthy vegetables in the communities of Ashland, Cherryland, and San Leandro. Every day, Dig Deep’s urban farmers grow fresh, high-nutrient produce while enlivening formerly abandoned parcels of land with sustainably grown and harvested fruits and vegetables. Dig Deep is also playing a key role in the County’s rollout of a circular food economy, changing eating behavior, growing produce for Alameda County’s Food as Medicine effort, and spreading the message of permaculture far and wide. More recently, they have been distributing free, healthy food from the Dig Deep Farms Food Hub to people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Behind the scenes, Dig Deep Farms’ managers Troy Horton and Sasha Shankar run the operation and train new urban farmers and youth interns on how to plant, nurture, grow, and harvest the produce. They also provide training on the ethics central to permaculture: earth care, people care, and fair share.

We recently spoke to one of their newest urban farmers, Humberto Ramirez, about his experience at Dig Deep Farms.

Humberto has a background in nutrition through his study of kinesiology. That pathway led him to search for a job in healthcare, nutrition, and related fields.

“My job title is urban farmer,” said Humberto. “I was a temporary employee for the first three months, and now I’m full time. At first, we were doing a lot of construction at the Food Hub. Now, we’re down here at the farms—a greenhouse farm and a firehouse farm. My duties include watering the plants, pruning them, and taking care of them.”

“A lot of the training is new to me, so I’ve learned a lot, the majority of the things I’ve learned so far are from Sasha and Troy during their lectures. We learned what permaculture is, we learned about design patterns, and a lot of the things one has to consider when creating a garden. These skills I’m learning are lifelong skills. I’m also learning about social justice and how it all relates.”

Learning, teaching, and mentoring are important aspects of Dig Deep’s approach to urban farming, so even though Humberto is relatively new, he is already involved in sharing the education he received with high school interns.

“Dig Deep Farms has an internship program for high school kids—they’re helping us prune and water the plants, and they’re learning about urban farming,” he said. “We currently have six youth interns under our wing.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the depths of the challenges with the food system in Alameda County, as families impacted by the crisis struggle to pay their bills and make ends meet. We asked Humberto how it feels to play a role in providing healthy food to people who truly need it.

“It makes me feel great,” he said. “The fact that this food is being grown organically—it makes me feel great. I learned that organic food has 40% more nutrients than conventionally grown food, so it’s important to help people get fresh food during the crisis. I also think it’s really beneficial to spread awareness and help the upcoming generation to eat healthy.”


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