This week, we finally left The Farm. I (Pete) attended a community meeting at the Fair Oaks Community Center. The meeting was organized by the Fair Oaks Forward Parks Working Group. The Parks Working Group, of which Priscilla is a member, is developing ways to fulfill the North Fair Oak’s Community Plan’s goal of increasing green space and community gardens. There is a clear nexus between these efforts and the goals of our farm stand project.
The following day, Natalie and Sophie toured the Fair Oaks Health Center (FOHC). They stood in the parking lot, on the very asphalt that may one day host vendors of local, healthy produce.
Other major tasks for the week included finalizing our Scope of Work, drafting a survey for FOHC patients and staff, and conducting phone interviews with Collective Roots and the West Coast Farmers Market Association – two organizations which operate farmers markets at health facilities on the Peninsula.
Observations and Learnings
At the community meeting, I was able to watch community planning in process. County officials reported on concepts for redesigning several blocks of Middlefield Road in the heart of NFO. Representatives from the Trust for Public Land presented some ideas for how parks can transform communities and then introduced a participatory mapping exercise. Community members divided up according to the section of NFO in which they resided. Each table had a map of the area. Community members placed stickers to mark where they lived, where they played, places they loved, places about which they had concerns, and places where they’d like to see parks. In the discussion that followed several themes emerged. For instance, there was consensus that fields at the Fair Oaks School, which community members have access to after school hours through a joint use agreement, need more public restrooms.
On their visit, Natalie and Sophie were able to see the physical layout of the FOHC campus. Priscilla showed them an outdoor patio that could potentially provide a space for farmers market-related events, as well as a conference room where we can conduct our focus groups with staff. The health center, which just opened in December, boasts a dental clinic, a wellness center, and adult and child primary care among other services.
On Tuesday night, I hopped on my bike outside the law school and started navigating rush hour traffic towards the Fair Oaks Community Center. I went a long way in six miles. Middlefield Road took me through Atherton. I always know when I’m in Atherton because of the walls that surround the properties. Forbes recently named Atherton the most expensive housing market in the nation. The median housing price is $6.67 million. Atherton, Menlo Park, and North Fair Oaks were all part of what was called Fair Oaks, until the early 1900s when the first two incorporated. North Fair Oaks remains unincorporated.
I knew when I had entered NFO because the walls disappeared, the trees thinned, and the street came to life. Businesses, many with signs in Spanish, shed as much light as the occasional street lamps. I started walking my bike along the curb, in part to see what I could see, in part to avoid being terribly early, and in part because the bike lane had disappeared. I passed auto body shops, pay day lending operations, corner stores, liquor stores, a supermarket, taquerias, pupuserias, and – incongruously, immediately before the Dumbarton Spur – the lonely Connoisseur Coffee Company. A Costco sits next to the Community Center. I wondered who shops there.
At the community meeting, Priscilla and the other organizers were anxious, wondering if residents would show up. Folks trickled in. Some took headsets to listen to the live translation. No one touched the snacks until the end, which required some restraint on my part. I distributed stickers and took notes and tried to make eye contact and smile. I thought about the string of meetings that preceded this one and the string of meetings that would follow. I was looking at the raw materials of community planning: a mix of heady ideas, mundane details, disagreement, and hopefully consensus and change. It was a good night.