“Getting involved in the community is our responsibility. Finding out who we are, what our needs are, and what our opportunities are—that’s been my focus for the last 25 years.”
Meet Mike Baratta, a dedicated volunteer and member of the DSAL community who has been volunteering with us since 2016. Mike grew up in Richmond, CA, and then moved to Cherryland 27 years ago where he immediately rolled up his sleeves to help his neighbors by picking up trash at the local grammar school. Mike’s philosophy is that you don’t have to wait for permission to volunteer, you just show up.
We caught up with Mike to hear more about why he gives back to the community and what keeps him coming back to volunteer with DSAL.
This is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Why do you volunteer in the community?
Ashland and Cherryland are extremely at-risk with communities, with large portions of the population struggling. We have addictions, domestic violence, and all the economic and interpersonal stresses that go along with economic issues. The Sheriff’s department tells us that the majority of their calls are about domestic disputes, and counselors tell us that most domestic disputes are related to economic concerns. The stress in the home is a huge source of chronic trauma that can impact health, learning, and our lives into adulthood.
Right after we moved here, I started picking up trash around the grammar school, making sure it was pleasant on Monday mornings when parents dropped off their kids. Feeling welcomed and respected is so important.
To me, that was very important, and it didn’t cost me a thing. My wife would go to church, and I would go pick up trash.
Growing up in Richmond, I had a lot of friends who came from different backgrounds with different experiences. This was in the 1960s. My high school years were the years when the Black Panther Party was active. I would go to meetings where you sit and talk about issues.
It dawned on me later that the Black Panthers were partly a response to a lack of respect, and that’s something that still exists. People want to be respected and they want their children to be respected.
That’s where I begin. I think about what I can do to show respect and to help people feel proud of who they are and where they live.
How did you get involved with DSAL?
My wife and I started attending meetings about crime that were led by the Sheriff’s Office. At the time, there was a lot of mistrust between the families in the community and the Sheriff’s department, and it became apparent that something needed to be done.
This was when Marty and Hilary started the soccer program, which was brilliant.
Initially, we got involved in planning a community garden at an apartment project in the neighborhood. We spent time teaching families about nutrition, soil health, and things like that. With the help of the Sheriff’s Office, we were able to transform the front yard of that apartment complex by growing vegetables and trees.
For me, youth is our number one source of energy—not electric, not nuclear, not solar—it’s our youth. And to see so much of it wasted through unaddressed mental health issues, drugs, and crime is just tragic. Whatever I felt could be done to interrupt the cycle, I was willing to do.
Later, I started helping with DSAL’s Eden Night Live events. I have a background in boat repair, so I was exposed to a whole lot of different skills and abilities, like being able to hook up lights and solar panels and other logistics. I kind of fell into supporting them – doing what needed to be done for Eden Night Live, and then showing up the next morning and picking up trash, so it looked respectable again.
What is it about DSAL and Community Capitals Policing that inspires you?
Growing up, I was always helping whichever one of my friends had the most interesting project for the weekend. Since that time, nobody has shown me more worthwhile efforts than DSAL. DSAL’s vision of working with previously incarcerated people, giving them an opportunity to farm and deliver nutritious food to families—actually showing the positive impact healthy food has on diabetes in children—the perseverance and the effort that has been put into the whole program is just impressive.
Right after they cut the ribbon on the Food Hub, COVID showed up. I started helping because at that time there were only three people on staff. I helped for a few months getting the Food Hub active, and then I slowly disappeared because they had built their paid crew and didn’t need me anymore.
That facility is transformative not just for the region, but also for the young people coming out of incarceration to realize that they are helping their community. Their energy was being reclaimed for the community. They are a vital artery for a healthy community, and to see the change in them and the feeling of self-respect that comes from that is priceless. Just priceless.
I see these things going on and it’s beyond words. The transformation and the impact these things are making on the community. So that’s how and why I help. I just look for what needs to be done, and I try to help, and in time, hopefully they don’t need me anymore.
Do you have advice for other people who might be interested in volunteering?
There are many ways to have an impact that don’t cost anything. Something as simple as picking up trash. It makes me feel better when I look down the street and I see kids walking to school and I don’t see trash. It’s that simple. It’s really not a complicated recipe for making an impact.
I look for what needs to be done, and I just go do it.
Dig Deep Farms Food Hub Virtual Magazine, Issue 2 – Just in Time for the Holidays!
The latest issue of the Dig Deep Farms Food Hub Virtual Magazine is out, featuring I Am Café on the cover! Read our story inside about how I Am Café’s founder, LaShawn Raybon, is driven to create a truly unique food and dining experience for her customers.
This issue includes a story about DSAL’s new Small Business Liaison, Erika Cortez.
You’ll also find profiles of Food Hub vendors, photos, images of delicious food, and plenty of ideas for holiday snacking and gift giving.
DSAL Boxers’ Training Pays Off!
Two of our DSAL boxers, Gabriel Galvan and Eric Calderon, participated in the Kamikaze Challenge Martial Arts competition in Stockton CA on Saturday, December 3rd. Gabriel and Eric both placed first in the Beginner Knife Division. Additionally, Kevin Calderon placed third in the beginner knife division and Coach Mickey placed second in the Masters division. According to Coach Mickey, none of the three students had any prior experience and trained very hard for 3 months leading up to the event.
Dig Deep Farms Pumpkin Patch Festival Entertains 11,000 Visitors
Dig Deep Farms Pumpkin Patch festival attracted fans throughout the month of October with pumpkins for purchase, pumpkin carving and decorating, games, food & drinks, crafts, and much more. The Pumpkin Patch Festival gave local elementary and high school students the opportunity to tour Ardenwood Historic Farm and learn about Dig Deep Farm’s sustainable, permaculture farming methods. 11,000 community members visited the event, and more than 175 youth toured the farm.
New Food Hub Coming to East Oakland
DSAL has been working with the Oakland City Council, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, the Black Cultural Zone, and local business leaders to build an ecosystem of Food Hubs to support the ALL IN Eats, Alameda County’s local circular food economy. Located at Arroyo Viejo Recreation Center in East Oakland, the newest Food Hub will make critical investments in built, human, social, and financial capital to accomplish a wide variety of Community Capitals Policing objectives, including:
supporting local food vendors
providing food storage and aggregation space for the County’s food recovery effort
reducing greenhouse gasses
helping low-income families access healthy, nutritious food
creating jobs for formerly incarcerated people, and
improving public safety for all.
The Oakland Post covered the news about the inter-agency, $1.7 million investment that is making the East Oakland Food Hub possible.
Dig Deep Farms Food Recovery and Recipe4Health Produce Deliveries Expand to Oakland
DSAL, ACSO, and Dig Deep Farms are thrilled to expand deliveries of healthy, recovered food to a growing list of partners in the City of Oakland, including East Oakland Collective, One Step Closer Church, YSA Tiny House Empowerment Village, Mercy Housing Santana Apartments, and many others in our mission of addressing food insecurity and social isolation to improve the wellbeing of residents.
We are also pleased to provide door-to-door deliveries of fresh, healthy produce to 64 Oakland residents who participate in the Alameda County’s Recipe4Health program – a new model of healthcare that combines healthy food interventions with group medical visits at community health clinics to prevent, treat, and reverse nutrition-related diseases.