What happens you are visiting your first grandchild in the Bay Area in July 2011? AND you are staying at your Oakland brother’s place while he is teaching in Africa? AND his apartment sitter, Lorraine, tells you she just finished harvesting honey from her own bee hives in that very kitchen? AND you find out she had borrowed Novella Carpenter’s honey extractor? AND you had recently finished reading Farm City? Of course, we started talking about urban farms.
Sensing my interest, Lorraine offered to give me a tour of some urban farms, including Novella’s, her own, and some community gardens. She was a fabulous tour guide who wove Oakland history & architecture into the tours. It was great to see Novella’s space in context. A few blocks before we got to her place there was a sign on the side of Martin Luther King Drive (just as official looking as a “No Parking” street sign) that read in part: “No Drugs, No Prostitutes”. I should have known we were getting close!
Novella’s squatter farm is on a large fenced in lot. I understand that she has had a lot of permit issues this year, so held back on the farming, although you can see there are chickens hanging out behind an old truck, bee hives, fruit trees, vegetables, mulch, etc. all surrounded by a high chain link fence with privacy screens. Artichokes are growing in the easeway between the sidewalk and the street. On the front door of the house, there is a “Danger Bees” sign. Across the street and to the left is the Buddhist temple. Directly across the street there were a couple of people looking like some of the addicts Novella describes in her book. I decided not to take their picture. I didn’t see evidence of Bobby. Maybe he is in jail. The mysterious shaded-window warehouse on the other side of the street has some freshly painted murals on it. Photos of the farm and neighborhood are available here.
Other urban farms and community gardens were springing up everywhere. Lorraine and her housemates share a yard where they have chickens, bees, lots of vegetables and flowers surrounding their solar panels. Lorraine’s allotted section was small but packed with produce. She took me to a large fenced chicken farm & the 55th Street Community Garden in Oakland. We visited a parallel Community Garden in Emeryville (advertising that they are organic, and have a waiting list of 29 families.) Lorraine pointed out the difference in character between these two gardens, which are within a mile of each other, but officially in a different city. There is no space between the cities, but the color of the street signs change, and the neighborhoods have different flavors. The last place on the tour was a huge garden area, built on leased land from an area deemed toxic. They put barriers between the original land and their garden, built up new soil and raised beds, and are growing vegetables that from all appearances look very healthy. Photos from these areas are here.
And yes, my grandson is adorable and healthy. It was a great trip.