My Neighborhood Is Changing

It’s kind of bittersweet. This weekend, our longtime neighbor D moved away from the 2-8. I’ve watched her kids, Bear and Unique, grow up from little kids into teenagers. Now there’s just a pile of leftover things in front of the house. Sure, D had issues: she always had a crazy boyfriend, she drank too much, and she played her music loud into the night. I always liked her, though, because she was sweet and real. She also used to give people who stopped by the garden a (probably slightly nonsensical) tour. We had some good times together and I’m sure I’ll see her around.

Her leaving made me realize how much our neighborhood has changed in the last 8 years. Bill and I took a Halloween walk last night. We stopped by a friend’s warehouse/music venue on West Grand and San Pablo. He’s remodeling the place, putting up walls and rooms, making a recording studio downstairs. He told us there are three art galleries/music venues within a few blocks. There’s a place called Produce Pro (pro-pro?) going up across the street from his warehouse. Then we kept walking to downtown, seeing a posse of scraper bike kids riding up Telegraph. The Arts High School at the Fox was putting on a play called Haunted School, and cool kids hung out on the corners. At Chinatown we considered getting dumplings at our favorite Chinese restaurant, Shanghai, but decided we should cook at home. We took BART to MacArthur so we could see people in costumes on public transportation (why do I love this? Dunno). We walked down Telegraph and went into Oasis, this relatively new middle eastern store/resto/hang out. I love this place because people can gather there (the Giants game was on) to have dinner or drink tea, or eat some baklava. The food is excellent and the Muslim community has made this their hub (there’s a mosque around the corner). Continuing down, Khalid the beekeeper and honey guy is setting up his shop a few blocks away from the Oasis. On 29th Street, a British guy (Bill thought he was Irish–maybe he was?) was putting away the sidewalk tables of his new restaurant/pub Commonwealth. We got to chatting with Ross and looked at the menu: bubble and squeak, beans and toast–classic pub food. They’re open for coffee/toast/tea in the morning and I hope to get over there soon. Then we walked under the overpass to home, and there were so many memories–the place where Bill went skateboarding and fell and hurt himself, the parking space where someone camped out for a whole year, the backyard that used to host the most outrageous parties. The billboard still advertised the County Fair, which took place in June. We looked up at the apartment building where a few nights ago a woman called to us while we huddled under an umbrella, from her window: “it’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring” and then we waved at her and yelled Happy Halloween and she waved back. Now it was Halloween and it wasn’t raining, and everything seemed to be changing, but it felt very familiar, if that makes any sense.

Back on 28th street, the monks’ pit bull was sniffing around the street. The smell of the garden–rank in places, green and fresh in others–wafted in the air. I could hear the goats nickering to their kids to come down from the stairs. Our cat Cuzzin was asleep on the couch. I spent the rest of the night reading Goat Song, and making plans for expanding the garden into the fall and winter. I want to build a greenhouse and a proper hay shed, a full-on outdoor kitchen. The other night we were making pizza in the cob oven and a guy and his lady walked by. “Is that a fire?” she asked, and I invited them in. They peered over the fence, “we have to go,” he explained and paused. “But you know, thank you for the invitation. I really appreciate it.” This is what I love about Oakland–we’re all here, figuring it out together, making a community, and inviting others to join us. So even though my neighborhood is changing–some might say gentrifying–I think it might be okay, as long as we all retain that spirit of sharing resources, expressing who we are, and prioritizing interaction with each other, all at the same time.

20 responses to “My Neighborhood Is Changing

  1. Great post, Novella. I hope all the changes are good ones for everyone.

  2. You can’t stop change, you just have to go with it. Wild, raw places like your neighborhood 8 years ago are few and far between now. And rare are pioneers like you and Bill. There are quite a few pale copies, but you’re the real deal.

  3. Ross at the Commonwealth is Scottish 🙂 My boyfriend’s paintings are hanging on the wall there right now — isn’t that place adorable?

  4. I live not too far from you in West Oakland but have been here only three and a half years. I suppose we are part of the gentrification. I grew up in a nice neighborhood in Seattle and have lived here and there and was in SF for five years before Oakland. I have never been in a place before where I felt the residents were so involved or understood what living in a community really feels like. Oakland isn’t known as being glamorous or even safe so there isn’t the same number of people who move here. The ones who do choose Oakland, especially the flatlands, really seem to be invested in building off the history and making this city something special. Even if neighborhoods get cleaned up a little, as long as there’s that energy of invention and involvement, I think we’ll be okay. I love raising my kids somewhere where there are so many examples of how people can do things completely differently and still coexist happily and often end at the same result. I think its beautiful.

  5. Hey Novella,

    I loved your latest emailer, I hope it appears in your next book! You seem to know the neighborhood very well, and I was nostalgic! Although I’m a little too hung over to be… HAPPY HALLOWEEN! 🙂 !! Meanwhile I was wondering if you have considered doing farmer market stuff at the Oakland Art Murmer between Rock Scissors Paper and the Galleries. I realize I have probably asked you this before. They block off the street for vendors and performances, I know you would be welcome, and many people would be interested in produce and of course, your book.



  6. Great post Novella! I hope Oakland’s new administration will help us all come together and foster more of the type of “figuring it out” that you so beautifully describe.

  7. I guess I have to move a run down city (Detroit?) to be able to hide my animals. Currently I live in a fairly rural area 3 miles from a small city but they recently rezoned in anticipation of growth (and a bigger tax base) and I have to get rid of all my chickens, 2 goats, 5 ducks and 3 geese. Progress, it isn’t.

    I envy your lack of interference from the powers that be in your area. Eventually I’ll move so I can live a real life again.

  8. great post. see you sat?

  9. Nice post Novella. We are indeed all tryin’ to figure it out together. Peace to you.

  10. hey novella,

    loved your book…wondering if you are/will be writing another one? a continuation of your story? i was sad when i finished your book- i wanted more!

  11. ghosttownfarm

    hi susan nguyen! yes, i am working on another book. i think it won’t be so much of a sequel but a new tangent that will somehow involve the goats. thank you for your kind words!

  12. Wish you could buy a piece of land. Just checked your book out from the library–I could not put it down. Where would I have my soil checked? thanks laurie

  13. Hi Novella,
    I live in an area of Oakland that has multiple names – when I first moved in it was called “murder dubbs”…of course I did not know that at the time. It was also known as the “twomps” or the “rolling 20’s”….now people are calling it China Hill since it has become the area of choice for Asian immigrants.
    The changes in the last 10 years have been swift. When I first moved in alot of the long time residents sensing my fear (at times) sort of protected me. Reggie the Shaman who had a long stick and did karate in the streets – Bill the Vietnam Vet who I got drunk with frequently. His mother who was one of the most beautiful people I had ever met (for an 90 year old)…Mrs. Johnson who was obsessed with her hedges….they have either died or sold – and each time one departed the neighborhood took on a new flavor – Some good – some not so good. The common thread is the sense of community. We all dread when Norma my 80 plus year old neighbor comes out in her pajama’s (no bra) because we all know she is going to ask us to do something( change a light bulb – move rugs….change a toilet seat – yep)…but we all help. Or my Vietnamese neighbor who told me he would shoot anyone who ever seemed agressive towards me (he meant it as an endearment). It’s definitely a unique Oakland experience.
    I’m also a gardener (more decorative than crop type). I am known as the tree guy in my neighborhood – me and my partner convinced our street to plant street trees – they look beautiful 10 years later. However my neighbors described above (even though they love me) still get mad every Fall when they have to rake…..
    Gotta love Oakland.
    speaking of which – a delivery guy just dumped an old toilet in front of my house . Sh*t!

  14. howdy todd; you got me laughing this morning. your neighborhood is so oakland! so far i’ve only found a handful of big cities that retain that sense of helping each other/being weird–baltimore, austin, brooklyn. i feel so lucky, and make a point to teach the new people in our hood the ways of the old schoolers who have now left. i once ran my giant box truck into the neighbors car and he seriously didn’t want me to get the insurance people involved–we’ll fix it ourselves, he said. it’s all very wild west. of course not everyone likes this vibe. glad you do!!

  15. Just finished reading the book. Hadn’t heard of your blog before, but picked it up from the leisure reading shelf in the library where I’m a graduate student…was intrigued by the cover and title.

    I have to say, I was pretty horrified. Your lack of empathy (for animals and people) is astounding. I am a vegetarian (for animal rights and health reasons), so I know my perception was colored some by that, but I don’t consider myself particularly PC or militant. And I do fall in the camp that if you’re going to eat animals, you should be able to be aware of where your meat comes from. (I’m also a farmer’s daughter, so I don’t have any illusions about factory farming and animal cruelty.)

    At the same time, your juxtapositions of cuddly stories and slaughter descriptions seem pretty brutal, or at the least, callous. Interspersing them with random comments about how “environmetally passionate” you are and how you “honor your animals” is just weird. I don’t see evidence of either of those.

    The way you parade your neighbors and their struggles through the book for entertainment is a whole ‘nother issue. (Well, I think the two go together, but that’s probably neither here nor there.) You *are* gentrifying your neighborhood. Do you really think a few distributed heads of lettuce and some backyard friendly conversation somehow mitigate that fact?

    Go educate yourself. For example:

  16. Sorry, that should have been “environmentally.” Though “environmetally” has its own interesting ring!

  17. Hi Novella, I discovered you through and watch it every so often. I love this urban farming idea. As a Canuck growing up in Atlantic Canada, I too raised pigs and chickens and enjoyed every minute of it. I can understand a little of the previous poster who is a vegetarian, but I find people that are closed minded regarding the killing of animals for food to be nutty in the mind, like a tree hugger, frog licker, that type of thingy. But I understand totally about being close to the animal throughout it’s life. I named my pigs, Betty Archie and Veronica, and they knew my voice (or maybe it was the sound of the feed bucket), but I loved them and maybe they loved me, only God knows. But there had to come a day that they had to go to the slaughter house and it was hard, but it had to be done. The same with the Chickens, I enjoyed hearing them squawk, and scratch around the yard, but I had to take the axe and cut their heads off. I remember doing thirty Chickens in one day, cutting their heads off is easy, then boiling the water for the dipping which really makes plucking a breeze. In the fall time, with the hot water and gutting, it’s nice and warm in there, my fingers thawed when I did the gutting. I live in the city now, have been for the last 20 years and I do miss the farm. I suppose that is why I watch your program on Chow. I think my parents were apart of that hippie culture, or maybe they moved to the country to get away from the hippies. But they were city folk who wanted to raise a family in the country. And we tried everything and anything, you name it we had it, and a whole lot of memories to boot. I think my favorite animal was the pigs. I remember when our sow was about to have a litter, I was probably 15 at the time and I’d lay right down with her and rub her belly to get her comfortable. She was a good mother. Mother told me one time that years ago one of the sows had gotten out and she couldn’t find her, winter came, snow piled up and when the spring arrived, Mother had gone to the manure pile to get some fertilizer and lo and behold there that sow was, she had bore her way under that huge pile of sh*t and had a litter and she staid there all winter, how she survived, again, only God knows. I haven’t gotten your book yet, just discovered today that you had written one. I plan to give that to Mother for Christmas and after she’s done with it, I’ll read it. Thanks for the inspiration.

  18. ghosttownfarm

    hi joyce;

    from time to time i get comments like yours, so i’m used to it and i don’t take it personally, though it is painful. it’s difficult to write a book and to get across my total experience of raising animals to nourish me. words are hard, and often fail. i don’t know that i can explain it except to say that i do love the animals, i do think they are cute, i do feel a connection to them, and the amazing thing is they actually become part of me. if you find that weird, that’s fine. people do lots of things that i think are weird, too. like building sculpture out of rabbit poo.

    the people i portray in my neighborhood who you say “i parade their struggles” have all read farm city. they have been very clear (especially bobby) that they love the book, that it is speaking for their experience in a way that is real and loving. i talk about my own struggles and difficulties at the same time, so it’s not like i’m acting all holier than thou. students from community colleges who read farm city who grew up in my neighborhood often come to my farm and tell me they love the book, that it is a true love song to this place. i’m still here, still working with members of my community to make a positive change (without being an annoying do-gooder). i don’t deny that i am changing my neighborhood–but what would you prefer? that this lot stay all garbage and weeds? so kids and people from the neighborhood can’t come by and enjoy a little bit of green in the middle of concrete? that would be really sad.

    as for the call to educate myself, you must be joking. of course i know about the black dot collective (and its latest problems–that article is from 2007, girl! one of my best friends lives across the street from their garden project, now defunct). on a positive note, i love the mandela food coop, kinji grows, and all the other positive african american spear-headed projects that are going on in oakland, but i don’t think these projects are mutually exclusive with my project–we can all work together. you’ve mistaken me for the enemy, and i’m here to tell you it just ain’t so.

  19. ghosttownfarm

    hey karl;
    thanks for the comment! i love the sow in the compost pile story–that is truly amazing. it must have been warm under there.
    good luck with the farming!

  20. Novella–

    i enjoyed reading about your experiences in west oakland….i think you are a very thoughtful and creative person….west oakland is fortunate that you decided to call it home….keep up the good work!

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