Crowds gather at Seed to Table in Collier County for protests

Two different protests were held Saturday at the Seed to Table Market in North Naples.

One was organized by the store owner, Alfie Oakes, for “All Lives Matter.” The other was meant to draw attention to Oakes for what many describe as a racist social media post.

More than a thousand people came to support Oakes at his rally, which he said would show the world “the silent majority can no longer remain silent,” and would also show love for the community, including local businesses.

Signs at the rally read “God bless America,” “Support police” and “Love.”

Oakes said he wanted to hold a rally to let their voices be heard as well, and he didn’t want any hate or violence to be shown. He said he simply wanted to say what he believes and explain the post he made on Facebook last week.

“In no way did I ever say that I didn’t believe in black lives or that black lives don’t matter. I’m just very, very much against the Black Lives Matter group,” he said.

Toward the end of the rally, Oakes fed the people who attended his event. He also said he’s donating $20,000 to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.

Oakes said originally he wasn’t going to hold this event but it got so much support that he felt he had to. “I wasn’t gonna do it and I had so many of these great people who reached out to me and said you have to make a stand here and show there are way more people that feel this way but they are the silent majority.”

Oakes also said he’s never been called a racist. “My whole life 52 years I have never been called a racist by anyone,” he said.

“In our company, we have so much diversity. All of our employees, I love every one of them.”

Employee Jaoquin Frausto agreed. “He’s been a great boss to us during this time of the pandemic. He’s been helping us put in hours, especially the migrant workers; we have to travel.”

Nathalie Geam of Naples said the protestors weren’t painting the whole picture. “They took the comment out of context.”

While Oakes said he won’t apologize for his post, he also doesn’t want any of his supporters to say a negative word about the other side. “I will never apologize about the post I made, I believe in every piece of it. I would apologize about the tone and how it was understood. I would have said it in a better way if I knew it would turn into this,” he said.

“I don’t want any single person in my crowd to say one thing bad about the protestors because we love them.”

Those protesters gathered along the street in front of the Seed to Table Market just as Oakes’ event was ending. They said his views are problematic and have no business in Collier County.

The Activist Protection League, which organized the event, said the protest wasn’t just about Oakes’ recent Facebook post. They said they wanted to show him the community wouldn’t stand by his views and the way he addressed the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s appalling that people still think this way. It’s appalling there’s people out here who don’t believe in just equality. And for him to say black lives is a hoax. That to me is saying..what, am I not real? What am I, not important?” said Aaliyyah Abdul.

“I want to urge anybody with a sense of morality to please not support a business that is owned by a man who does not value human life at all,” said Cat Musumano, who identified herself as a former employee.

Some of those who attended Oakes’ rally met those protesters on the street. While it got loud at times with back and forth shouting, it never got out of hand. Collier County deputies were interspersed in the crowd to make sure things stayed civil.

It didn’t take long after Oakes’ Facebook post for activists to petition the School District of Lee County to sever ties with Oakes. Lee County schools did so quickly, and Collier County schools noted that they had no contracts with the company.

The organizers of the 2 p.m. protest said their main concern was with the business’ ties to the schools, and with that issue out of the way, Saturday’s protest was about sending a message.

The Collier County Public School spokesman said in a statement: “The District’s food distributor is Sysco West Coast Florida. The distributor was unable to supply certain products and unable to package them individually to distribute to needy families. Oakes Farms was used as a stop-gap measure, in April and May. We are utilizing the USDA FFAVORS (Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Order Receipt System) program for the month of June to provide produce. In July, Sysco has advised they will be able to resume meeting our produce needs.”

“We don’t just want to send a message to Alfie; this is to Naples, this is to Collier, this is to Lee. We’re standing up, and there’s more of us than there are of them. What we’re gonna do is we’re gonna go out there and stand arm in arm and support our neighbors,” said Kris Knudson with the Activist Protection League of Southwest Florida.

The group said they were in close contact with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office to make sure their protest went safely and smoothly.

“What we are stressing is, above all, safety. We have been working very hard to make sure everyone is aware of what our constitutionally guaranteed rights are, what the county expects as far as what civil laws regarding traffic and things of that nature,” Knudson said.

Oakes was quick to come out publicly after his post received the backlash it did. He said he never could have imagined what he said would be interpreted as racist.

“It’s a tragedy what happened to George Floyd; 100 percent it’s a tragedy, but it does not warrant, you know, defunding the police department or having no law and order,” he told WINK News. “A lot of the people on these posts are from other states that were making really nasty comments and there is a lot of local people that maybe see things differently and that’s the great thing of our country.”

The Founder fo the Activist Protection League, Shelby Finger, said they wanted  to make sure “people like Alfie Oakes shouldn’t necessarily be representing our community anymore.”

Other protesters echoed the sentiment that being quiet about the views Oakes has have gone on for too long. “I won’t have it anymore. I will not have it. and I think the people are going to speak for what they believe in and the people upstairs are going to have to listen and change will happen,” said Joshua Mackie.

Reporter:Sydney Persing
Taylor Smith
Andryanna Sheppard
Writer:WINK News
Do you see a typo or an error? Let us know.