Thu, 04 Aug 2011 20:30:00
Lena Miller – Founder/Executive Director, Hunters Point Family – calls promptly at 10:30 a.m. to say she will be a little late. Five minutes later she arrives, coffee cup in hand, outside her office at 1651 Quesada Ave., a modest yellow building tucked away in a row of adjacent houses.
“One of the beautiful things about living and working in your community is that everyone knows everyone; but the bad thing is that you can’t even walk down the street without having thirty conversations,” she said.
She added the last part of her statement with a smile expressing that each and every one of those conversations is exactly why she lives and works in the community she does.
The Bayview Hunters Point district of San Francisco has been generally known as a dumping ground for the city. Although this area serves as an energy producer, it is also home to many toxic plants and waste dump sites.
To the area’s inhabitants, however, it is home to a proud close-knit community that refuses to yield to the struggles it has been handed.
Miller, a Bayview Hunters Point native, began Hunters Point Family in 1997 – then called Girls 2000 – with the goal of providing a positive foundation for area youths, by transforming these young people from “high-risk” to “high-potential.”
Today, this nonprofit offers many programs centered around education, career and community development. Urban Farms, one of the programs, provides participants with the unique experience of working on an urban organic farm.
“I was working full time at the mayor’s office and had just started Girls 2000. My son was 1 1/2 at the time, and I’d come home and just feed him junk. One day it just dawned on me that that’s what everyone in the community was doing,” Miller recalled.
So Urban Farms was born. More than a farm, the purpose of the program is to promote and teach healthy living. Participants learn to reconnect with nature and provide for themselves by working with nature’s rhythms and patterns. Every Thursday, workers distribute their organic produce to families through the Hunters Point Family community food pantry. They also sell their produce at the local Farmers Market.
“The seed we’re planting is self-sufficiency; growing food is not a skill we can afford to become disconnected with,” stressed Miller.
Additionally, Urban Farms provides workers with an occupational foundation. All participants are youths from the Bayview Hunters Point community, with most being public housing residents. For many of these young people, working in the Urban Farms program was their first job experience.
Miller hopes that the objective behind Urban Farms will continue to develop in her own community, as well as in the rest of San Francisco.
“One day we will have fruit trees in parks, so if a kid wants an apple he can just go get one. There can be enough food – healthy food – for everyone.”
This concept of providing healthy food for the Bayview Hunters Point community has led the Hunters Point Family to a new endeavor – the Get Fresh Juice Bar. In its final development, the Get Fresh Juice Bar will be youth-run and feature entirely “clean” food.
“No sugar, no white flour. All of those things that are making people sick – we won’t be using any of that,” assured Miller. “We’ll be using all natural ingredients – like maple syrup and honey as sweeteners.”
All workers will be trained to know the health benefits of every ingredient used. This way, they will be able to make educated recommendations for their customers.
“A customer can walk in and say, “I have diabetes,” or “I have heart problems,” and our workers will be able to tell them what they can choose to help that,” Miller explained. “It’s about using food as a source of nutrients and nourishment instead of eating just to be eating. We have some of the worst health in the area. We need to transform the way people relate to food.”
Aside from learning about healthy eating, the young people working at Get Fresh Juice Bar will be learning how to run a business, so that they may one day run a business of their own. The experience and skills they acquire – job training, business management, record keeping, and etcetera – will prepare them for careers in the future.
The Get Fresh Juice Bar is scheduled to open this summer in the Bayview Hunters Point area.
When asked why she does what she does, Miller’s smile was genuine. “I love my community,” she stated simply.
After a beat, she went on, “Our community was destroyed in the 80s with drugs and weapons. I’m almost 40, so I can remember when our community was strong. We have the highest rate of heart-disease, diabetes, jail, homicide – and the highest number of homeless in San Francisco between the ages of 25 and 40 – black males. That’s a brand new statistic. But there’s a lot of love in our community. There’s a big push to overcome. We deserve it.”And they truly do.
More information about The Hunters Point Family can be found on their Web site, www.hunterspointfamily.com.