Category Archives: Alameda

Suzanne Carter at Henry Haight School Garden


Where does food come from? Suzanne Carter got a good laugh when she heard a  first grader proudly proclaim that  “honey comes from the honey bee tree.”  Being able to teach kids first-hand about where food comes from is one of the reasons she volunteers at her son’s elementary school garden. Three days a week she works with 240 kids, teaching them gardening skills, botany, nutrition as well as geometry and math, all using the garden as inspiration.

The idea for a teaching garden started in 2011 with no budget but lots of community support. The school’s Go Green Committee came up with the plan to turn an unloved corner of the play field into an educational garden. In January of 2012, Alameda’s then supervisor Wilma Chan organized contractors to build a shed, and a local Boy Scout troop made raised beds. Later 175 people came out to a work party to help mulch, dig and plant.

Suzanne joined in right from the beginning working with a teacher to create the garden program. She graduated with an Anthropology degree but lately she has become more interested in plants. Besides volunteering at the schools garden program she also runs her own landscaping business, Urban Gardening. At the school’s gardening program she also helps write grants to get stipends for supplies.



When I visited last week, the winter garden was going strong with 13 raised beds of spinach, lettuces, kale, fava beans, herbs, edible flowers and more. They had a giant compost bin and a worm box, and activity area  with benches and tree stump stools.

The third and fourth graders I met were observing evidence of winter in the garden, looking through magnifying glasses and taking notes on clipboards. The kids found that the fruit trees did not have fruit or leaves, but they did have buds. They were fascinated by the insects. Later they talked about their observations and then picked spinach, kale, Italian dandelion leaves,  baby lettuce and edible flowers. Suzanne says the kids let her know what they are really interested in but she provides the basics first. “Sustainability, energy use and eating are the big three”, she says. At the end of class the kids helped make an organic gourmet salad that would rival one you’d find at an expensive restaurant. She says the kids have debated which of the vegetables is the best. Lately kale has been the winner.






Beekeeping to Soap making


Recently I met Jean Chen and Christian Bauer when I photographed them for a story about local honey for Oakland Magazine. The two own  a soap making business called Bubble Farm that makes soap from beeswax and honey. (They also sell other bee products including honey.)  I was curious about how they started their business because Jean said she was never someone who was into making homemade soap. It was the honey that first made them think about beekeeping. She “never really thought about honey” till she tasted the raw unpasteurized version back in 2007. It was like nothing she’d ever experienced before. It must have made an impression because it was not long afterwards that she and Chris joined the San Francisco Beekeepers Association and got two backyard hives.  As they began harvesting the honey they found lots of interested buyers in the extra honey but they didn’t know what to do with all the leftover wax. Chris began experimenting, making soap with it. After about a year of perfecting the recipe they found friends and family really liked what they were making. They began selling the soap to the same stores that bought their honey and the business grew naturally.

Jean, a former tattooist has since taken over the soap business full time, and Chris kept his day job but took over the beekeeping. They now sell soap and honey mostly locally, in over 20 stores and on their website. Their biggest new retailer is Whole Foods and they are currently looking for a  bigger space for production. The challenges are staying organized and keeping up with orders from 20 stores. She spends at least one day a week making deliveries and one day a week making soap. The soap has to cure for 60 days so she’s learned to keep about 1000 bars on hand so she can fill orders. At any given time they have between five and seven hives but this year they hope to expand to about a dozen hives. Her advice to new those who want to start a business: “be good with numbers.”  You need to figure out the profit margin and stay organized but she says it’s rewarding “creating something and getting it out there.”



Jean Chen and Christian Bauer check one of their hives in Alameda California.