Yolanda Burrell has got to be the busiest urban farmer I’ve met. Besides vegetables, chickens, and home renovations, she’s got a husband, two kids and permaculture classes, not to mention a new store. She opened Pollinate, one of Oakland’s newest urban farm supply stores with Birgitt Evans just five months ago. Birgitt, a master gardener, who I interviewed and photographed for my book, Backyard Roots is her partner, so when Yolanda finally had an free morning for me to come visit, I jumped.
Yolanda and her family live in the Oak Knoll neighborhood of Oakland. Their home sits on a large 1/2 acre lot, and they grow their veggies in the front yard. The farm follows the permaculture principle of being accessible so harvesting and care is easy. And since it’s right out front Yolanda didn’t want an eyesore. The raised beds radiate out from four corners in the center of the yard and she punctuates the garden with lots of flowers. The beds a have thick mulch paths between them and she plants lots of permaculture veggies, like ground cherries that her kids love as well as tomatoes, squash, artichokes, beans, asparagus and plenty more. The back is where the two chicken coops are kept, along with a growing food forest with over 20 fruit trees, and play area for the kids.
I loved Yolanda’s urban farm but when she told me about her store I was really captivated. She and Birgitt have known each other 25 years and are both really into growing food. They’ve always dreamed of having a great farm store where customers could get everything all under one roof. They started “saving their pennies” and spent over a year planning. There were no outside investors. To learn more about how to do it Yolanda and her family visited urban farm stores in Portland and Eugene and found a couple of great mentors. They learned they would probably not get a vacation for two years and that they would work every day, even when they weren’t in the store. Yet they were not deterred. It became a mission to find a location that had indoor/outdoor space, a driveway for loading, and was not too far from either of them. When they found their spot at 2727 Fruitvale they quickly went to work, enrolling a talented neighbor to make farm tables, another friend to do graphics, and getting endless help from their families. So far, Pollinate has been welcomed by the neighbors and greeted with excitement. The two have yet to make a salary but business is good. The store is getting popular, they have workshops and classes as well as all your homestead needs. Yolanda says the “community wants them to succeed.” How could they not.