The American idea of the “self-made man” is little more than a myth. In actuality, we all rely on a network of friends, family, and available resources to move ahead.
The Nuñez and Rodriguez families, based in East Oakland, California, know this first-hand. Through My Familia, a group they formed via the Family Independence Initiative (FII), they have started trading home-grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables with neighbors as a way to get to know them better, build a friendlier community, and make sure no food goes to waste.
“My dad always liked to grow vegetables in his back yard,” Diego Rodriguez says. “He has apple trees, an avocado tree, plums, lemons, onions, garlic; it’s his hobby. He always gives away whole bags of fruits and veggies to family members who come to visit. So I thought, ‘Why not give some to our neighbors, too?’”
The idea took off quickly. Many of the families who’ve received excess crops from My Familia are now following their example and trading or gifting their own produce to other neighbors.
“Some have fruit trees at home but don’t take advantage of them,” he says. “This gives them an opportunity to reconnect to food that’s literally growing for free in their own backyards. It’s also become a way to get to know our neighbors better. Many of them we only knew by face.”
FII knows that families working together come up with the most sustainable and relevant solutions for themselves and their communities. My Familia exemplifies this belief.
In addition to strengthening their community through food sharing, Diego says that La Familia members have also become better at talking frankly with each other about their finances, supporting each other, and spending more quality time together.
“It’s difficult to hear a member of your own family talk about money and personal problems,” Diego says. “You just want to jump in and tell them what to do. But the key is to meet them where they’re at—to see them as people—and go from there. That’s something that we’re learning through this experience.”
Building on their progress, My Familia has several other goals in mind, including to support one another as they brush up on their skills, and to improve their formal education. Diego is going back to school next year, and his fiancé Jessica just graduated from NCP College of Nursing and obtained a certification in nursing. His sister-in-law is close to obtaining a degree in veterinary science.
“I want to help start another FII group in Oakland,” Diego says. “At first, people don’t know what to expect, but once they can realize that they can set the terms of their own success, they want to be a part of it.”