Know Your Farmer: Guillermo Vasquez, Indigenous Permaculture Project

Farmer Guillermo Vasquez in front of the mobile (bus!) pantries of the Indigenous Permaculture Project. Credit: M. Doshi

This month, Growing Roots teammate Marit Doshi had the opportunity to connect with Guillermo Vasquez, head of the Indigenous Permaculture Project here in the Bay Area. Observing COVID safety guidelines, they visited while walking around one of the Project’s vibrant and inviting farms, this one in Oakland’s San Antonio neighborhood.

Tell us about the Project’s goals and accomplishments

Growing food for the community right on top of concrete!

To begin, Guillermo gives “thanks one, two, three times to our creators and makers for everything.” He and others started the Project in 2002, working with local communities and Indigenous peoples, as part of “our obligation to bring in mother Earth’s way of thinking.” The Project empowers low-income peoples across the Bay Area to understand how we are all connected and to respond directly to intertwined food, nutrition, and health challenges. In particular, Vasquez and others share Indigenous science as part of traditional farming. They now manage three sites in Oakland, Treasure Island, and Berkeley and also have a mobile food pantry going weekly to Oakland and San Francisco. The Project also provides extensive training for aspiring farmers and  gardeners in March-September. While the training is free, the students have to offer their full commitment to implement a project in their own community for one year, bringing in their own culture and family history. Even during COVID, 8 students safely completed a shortened training course. Through all this work, Guillermo and others have learned that “you can grow anything as long as you have space and water!”

What are the key sources of support for the Project?

Ever since 2002, the Project has had little to no grants or guaranteed funding. So they work with the resources at hand in their low-income communities. Without money, Guillermo has seen that “you create your own resources” from within the community, and while that’s really (really) challenging, that enables “you [to] understand the community.” In Oakland, an Episcopal Church provides space and water access in their church parking lot while in Berkeley, the Ecology Center helps with the EcoHouse site. The Project also does receive small, targeted grants, such as a recent one from the Rose Foundation to provide care and boxes for bees. This year the SF Foundation and the Berkeley Food Network have provided COVID19 response support, including supplementary food for the mobile pantry. 

How do you engage with other farmers in the East Bay?

“Tiguanceguite = working together.” Urban farmers and community gardeners are “my heroes,” says Guillermo. The Project supports other East Bay farmers when possible, helping out when they’re busy, and definitely drawing on them for continued inspiration. And several community gardens contribute to the food provided by the Project’s mobile pantry.

What would you like to see change or improve for urban ag in the East Bay?

Guillermo would love to see more available East Bay space used for urban ag and community gardening. They were able to utilize an old parking lot! Additionally, he would like there to be further recognition, in policy and other spheres, of the different reality and knowledge of urban farmers. He ticked off the challenges of pollution, water access, micro-climates, vandalism, and funding. All that knowledge, held by urban farmers, “cannot be disconnected from growing the food.” In other words, urban farmers have a lot more to offer to their neighborhoods and cities than many realize! 

What else would you like folks to know about the Project and your work?

Project farm site in Oakland’s San Antonio neighborhood

Guillermo first had a message for all urban farmers and healthy, local food champions: “Don’t stop what you’re doing.” He encouraged us all to bring our love to this work because it is love and health, mentally and spiritually. Additionally, he flagged that the Project is looking for space! Specifically, in this time of ongoing COVID19-induced need, they are hoping to acquire access to 3 acres to grow more food and have a long-term training site. Plus, they are raising funds for cold storage and a teaching kitchen container at the Oakland site. Contact Guillermo directly if you have leads on space, cold storage, and funding:!