Category Archives: urban farm

West Oakland Farm Park

Rodney Spencer, executive director of City Slicker Farms.

Rodney Spencer, executive director of City Slicker Farms.

There’s a difference when you walk into to West Oakland’s newest park. The plaza beckons with its lush grass. There’s picnic tables and a playground, but surrounding the park is something else. It’s familiar but unexpected. Vegetables. The newest park in West Oakland is also a farm. Kale, collards, cucumbers, beans, and tomatoes surround the central plaza and a 28 raised-bed community garden line the fence. A newly planted orchard has taken root on the southern edge and on the opposite end is a chicken coop with 20 young hens. If you stop by Saturday you can buy freshly harvested produce from the City Slicker Farm Stand on a sliding scale.

West Oakland Farm Park, a view from the entrance.

West Oakland Farm Park, a view from the entrance.

Located at 28th and Peralta Streets, West Oakland Farm Park is a public space with a working farm and a community mission. Open daily from 10am to 7pm, executive director Rodney Spencer says it’s all here for the neighborhood of West Oakland. Once a food desert with nothing but liquor stores and industry, City Slicker was able to obtain the 1.4 acre site through a $4 million dollar grant from Proposition 84. The statewide bond not only funds safe drinking water, water quality and supply, flood control, but also seeks to revitalize disadvantaged communities making them more sustainable and livable by investing in local parks and urban greening. Because City Slicker farms is a non-profit and willing to include public access with a park and restrooms within their farm they were able to obtain the grant.

Joseph Davis, farm manager of City Slicker Farms, at the West Oakland Farm Park.

Joseph Davis, farm manager of City Slicker Farms, at the West Oakland Farm Park.

Ever since the purchase last year, the farm park has been a hub of planning and building. The organization has partnered with many groups to make it a true community effort. A few examples of their partnerships include KaBOOM!, a national non-profit that put in the playground. In Good Company, a community service project of Clif Bar put in the woodshed, toolshed and farm stand. The Crucible made the iron farm gate. Art students from the California College of Arts painted the murals and architecture students from the same school designed the chicken coop.

Rachel Rehmet (in hat) at the City Slicker Farm stand.

Rachel Rehmet (in hat) at the City Slicker Farm stand.

The property’s main building will become the City Slicker Farm headquarters and houses a demonstration kitchen, an outdoor classroom, and a community rec center. City Slicker Farms is best known for its backyard garden program that helps neighbors grow food by building and installing raised backyard beds and mentoring the new gardeners to ensure success. In its 15 year history the group has installed over 300 raised beds for the community. The new site has a woodshop where they can make the 8 x 3½ foot frames. The site also hosts City Slicker’s youth summer crew program that hires 8 local teenagers teaching them urban agriculture and life skills. City Slicker’s cornerstone program, the community farm stand also takes place at the new site every Saturday starting at 10am. A sliding scale rate from $1-3 is a way to make sure there’s affordable healthy food for the neighborhood.

A youth crew teenager moves horse manure to the garden. The manure is donated from a stable in the Oakland Hills.

A youth crew teenager moves horse manure to the garden. The manure is donated from a stable in the Oakland Hills.

City Slicker has only six and a half paid positions in its organization. It relies on volunteers and community involvement. Thursdays and Saturdays are drop-in days where you can show up and help out. Farm manager Joseph Davis has just finished setting up the drip irrigation system for new beds with the help of his youth crew and volunteers. Because the soil on the site was contaminated, hundreds of yards of soil was replaced by clean topsoil. Joseph, a former teacher first worked with City Slicker back in 2009 as an intern. He then began mentoring and was the natural candidate for the farm manager position. “Being an urban farmer is very public,” he says. People come by and are interested in what’s going on. Those interested people often come back to help out.

Joseph Davis(in red), farm manager works with the youth crew and volunteers to put in the drip irrigation system at West Oakland Farm Park

Joseph Davis(in red), farm manager works with the youth crew and volunteers to put in the drip irrigation system at West Oakland Farm Park

City Slicker latest goal is to reach out to local progressive organizations and neighbors that need community space. Cooking Matters already is using the space for classes and demos. The community garden is going strong providing raised beds for neighbors to garden. “We want West Oakland neighbors to have events here,” says executive director Rodney Spencer. “We’ve proven that you can grow food and improve the health and well being of the neighborhood. This land has been blighted and misused for decades. It’s time to give the land back.” Visit West Oakland Farm Park for inspiration and don’t forget to pick up some kale.

The community garden, where neighbors can grow vegetables themselves in 28 raised beds.

The community garden, where neighbors can grow vegetables themselves in 28 raised beds.

Acta Non Verba Teaches Kids about Growing Food

Kelly Carlisle in the Act Non Verba farm she founded in East Oakland.

Kelly Carlisle in the Act Non Verba farm she founded in East Oakland.

Kelly Carlisle is a woman of action, so it’s appropriate the Latin name she selected for the youth urban farm project she started, Acta Non Verba, means “action not words.”

Back in 2010, Carlisle was a U.S. Navy vet who had recently returned to the Bay Area. At the time, she became upset over an article about East Oakland and its 40 percent dropout rate, its lack of opportunities, and its rampant crime and violence. It was deeply troubling to her, having grown up in East Oakland. About the same time, she noticed her daughter didn’t like going there, and Carlisle felt a bit of elitism creeping in. She also felt driven to make a change. Having recently gotten into growing food, Carlisle thought the way to reach kids was to get them involved in growing, too, and she settled on starting a nonprofit urban farm project for kids.

“The first thing I did was buy books,” said Carlisle, a reader who believes the power of change starts with education. The book, she said, told her to begin by “telling everyone.” She did, starting with her mom, her friends, and others. She perfected her elevator pitch, and then met Cynthia Armstrong, the director of Tassafaronga Recreation Center on 85th Avenue in East Oakland. Unbelievably to Carlisle, Armstrong was interested in her idea to set up a community urban farm on a quarter-acre portion of Tassafaronga Park.

Carlisle wrote up a proposal, and it was accepted. She got to work, writing grant proposals and planning the garden and the program. She has gone on to get many grants, but it’s never easy, she said. And it was especially difficult at first, being unknown, she said.

Carlisle learned a lot from the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment. She has a soft spot for the Oakland nonprofit that promotes community advocacy to protect the environment, public health, and consumers. Carlisle credits the foundation with helping her on many levels, from leadership training to technical support.

It was through the Rose Foundation that she met a fellow nonprofit leader who led to her being invited to a presidential dinner last year. “I wasn’t going to go, but everyone said I should. So I got myself the very best Ross Dress for Less dress and went.” Carlisle also got the incredibly stressful honor, she said, of being selected to sit next to President Obama while he talked about her program.

Today Acta Non Verba farm offers summer camps for kids from kindergarten to eighth grade plus spring- and winter-break classes. The kids learn all about growing, from seeds to harvest, and they sell the produce on a farm stand and through CSA farmers. The profits they earn go into a savings account for college, an idea that came to Carlisle after she read kids who save for college are seven times more likely to go to college. Their activities also include cooking, dance, and art; the summer camp offers a healthy homemade breakfast, lunch, and snack.

Acta Non Verba takes all kids, but the nonprofit generally charges a small fee. Carlisle said that’s because she has found people value the program more when they pay for it.

Carlisle’s advice to others who wish to follow their dreams comes from a book she loves, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedoms. “Be impeccable in your intentions,” she said.

It’s good advice that she practices—just like the axiom that hits even closer to home: action not words.

Visit Acta Non Verba website here.

This story originally came out in Oakland Magazine October 2015.

Kids learn about thinning seedlings at the Acta Non Verba summer camp.

Kids learn about thinning seedlings with Instructor Kana Azhari at the Acta Non Verba summer camp.

Kids learn about thinning seedlings at the Acta Non Verba summer camp.

Kids learn about thinning seedlings at the Acta Non Verba summer camp.

Kids learn about thinning seedlings at the Acta Non Verba summer camp.

Kids learn about thinning seedlings at the Acta Non Verba summer camp.

Singing and drumming are popular with the kids at Acta Non Verba summer camp.

Afia Walking Tree leads the kids with a song at Acta Non Verba summer camp.

Singing and drumming are popular with the kids at Acta Non Verba summer camp.

Singing and drumming are popular with the kids at Acta Non Verba summer camp.

Singing and drumming are popular with the kids at Acta Non Verba summer camp.

Taylor Melendy leads kids with a song at Acta Non Verba summer camp.

Kids get a homemade lunch that includes food they've help grow, like herbs in the pasta salad at Acta Non Verba.

HuNia Bradley adds  home grown herbs with intern Diamond Allen. Kids get a homemade lunch that includes food they’ve help grow.