Miracle on 28th Street

2 Dec

Sorry I’ve been so out of touch. I’m sick with a head cold (snot, anyone?) and something so big has happened, I’ve been sitting with it and trying to figure out if it really happened or if I just imagined it.

I’ll just come out with it: Billy and I bought the lot. We’ve been squatting on the 4500 square feet parcel next to our apartment for the past 8 years, growing vegetables and fruit trees. I’ve imagined the bulldozers coming multiple times as various owners of the lot have threatened us with development. First they would uproot all the trees, then they’d drive over all the carefully tended beds, then they would build shoddy condos. I would watch, horrified, and make plans to move to East Oakland.

Instead, the latest owner of the property, S, came by a few weeks ago. She told me she needed to sell the lot. When she said that, I imagined the bulldozers. Then she said that she wanted to sell it to me. For cheap. I felt like I was in a Disney movie. All the birds in the fig trees came down and landed on our shoulders, and started singing a song; and then the lot rats scurried out to do little jazzy dance moves, and a big sunny rainbow appeared. “No way!” I said to S and laughed and punched her arm. She looked at me like I was a true nutball that she had expected (last time I saw her, I picked her a bouquet of orange tiger lilies as a bribe).

I’ve never owned property before, so I didn’t know how to proceed. Luckily, I had heard about this nice realtor lady, Bobbi Vogel, so I called her. She was at the lot within 15 minutes of my call. I told her the price and she couldn’t believe it. Within a week, I owned the lot. I just got the Grant Deed in the mail, which says S “hereby grants to Novella Carpenter, a single woman the following described property in the City of Oakland: Lots 29 and 30 in block 2024”. This seems so olde English.

Holy Shittt!!

So now, the question is: what to do? Build a greenhouse? An outdoor kitchen for classes? A tree house for the goats? I want to finally crack through the concrete and plant espaliered fruit trees along the property line. Luckily we have 100 fruit tree rootstock from an overambitious Rain Tree order last year. I can finally start hosting field trips from the local schools without worry! Those are the fun ideas. In reality I need to:  hook up the water meter, get insurance, and have the property surveyed. I might even go legit and register Ghosttown Farm as a real farm business as soon as the City Council makes urban ag legal (supposedly happening next spring).

I’d love to hear what ideas you all have!

In case you were wondering, of course we’re not going to start locking the fricking gate, even though someone keeps harvesting my cabbages.




81 Responses to “Miracle on 28th Street”

  1. Heidi December 2, 2010 at 7:16 pm #

    Congratulations!!!! I’m giddy with excitement for you.

  2. Scott R Davis December 2, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

    Wow! Congratulations! Terrific news.

  3. autonomyacres December 2, 2010 at 7:28 pm #

    Hey Novella, congratulations! I know exactly how you feel. We bought the lot next to our house this summer! I don’t like being in debt, but sometimes it is worth it! Rock On!

  4. Oakland Daily Photo December 2, 2010 at 7:30 pm #

    A few days ago I was cruising West Oakland taking pictures. I decided to follow 28th Street from Union Street to San Pablo and then West St. looking for your farm. No luck. Now that you’re a landowner, will there be a sign that will tell us when we’ve found you? Congratulations on this move forward. Sounds like it was meant to happen.

  5. Ben December 2, 2010 at 7:41 pm #


  6. Rachel @ Dog Island Farm December 2, 2010 at 7:45 pm #

    That’s awesome! Congratulations! Such a huge weight taken off of your shoulders.

  7. ChristineZ December 2, 2010 at 8:01 pm #

    THIS IS SUPER AWESOME! I cannot wait to witness the next chapter. 🙂

  8. Angela December 2, 2010 at 8:04 pm #

    Congrats! That is so awesome, and you two deserve it. Thanks for sharing your great news!

  9. tabithatwitchit December 2, 2010 at 8:21 pm #

    You and the land; it’s like one of those relationships where everyone else can see you’re made for each other, and then suddenely after 8 years, someone proposes.

    No more bulldozers. Finally we can all take a deep breath. Amazing, absolutely amazing.

  10. Carla Lopez December 2, 2010 at 8:24 pm #

    Wow! Congratulations Novella. I’m so happy to read this happened. Best wishes to you in this new situation.

  11. T-Bonez December 2, 2010 at 8:45 pm #

    Novella that is awesome news! I can’t imagine a better outcome for your ghosttown farm, best wishes and don’t be a stranger at twotrackcompass, we need pioneers like yourself hitting us with input. Later gator.

  12. Therese Totten December 2, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

    WOOHOO! Go, you!

  13. BikeManDan.com December 2, 2010 at 9:14 pm #

    Congrats, that’s great 🙂

    How about building a tiny house?

  14. Erin December 2, 2010 at 9:20 pm #

    F$*# yeah! That is so great. I am thrilled for you. Greenhouse – yes! Small honey house – yes! Expand the garden, plant more trees, whatever you do, I know it will be wonderful. You so deserve this!

  15. Jessica December 2, 2010 at 9:24 pm #


  16. Dan Wood December 2, 2010 at 9:50 pm #

    Really amazing news. I had forgotten that there was concrete underneath all that soil — the Birgitt-approved raised beds have concealed it well. Planning on living next door indefinitely, or maybe living on the your new lot yourself at some point?

  17. Kathryn December 2, 2010 at 10:09 pm #

    This is the most exciting news! Congrats…I have no idea what you should do next….just don’t build condos!!!!!

  18. Lauren December 2, 2010 at 10:30 pm #

    omg, I’m so happy to hear this!! Hooray!! I am looking forward to hearing about all the wonderful, awesome, delicious things you will do.

  19. Jessica Flemming December 2, 2010 at 11:16 pm #

    Oh MY! I have tears in my eyes and a huge dopey grin on my face. I am so happy for you! I feel like Robin Hood has prevailed again! AMAZING! Man oh man! CONGRATULATIONS!!!! So exciting!

  20. Amy (Groome) Reese December 2, 2010 at 11:29 pm #

    Congratulations Novella – what a great turn of events! I love following your adventures. xxoo

  21. Maureen in Oakland December 2, 2010 at 11:37 pm #

    That! IS! AMAZING! Congratulations. You deserve it!

  22. Bettina December 3, 2010 at 12:26 am #

    That is wonderful – congratulations!

  23. kate@livingthefrugallife December 3, 2010 at 3:49 am #

    That’s awesome, Novella!. No suggestions, just big congratulations. Pretty exciting.

  24. Heather December 3, 2010 at 4:49 am #

    Dear Novella,
    That is such wonderful news! What a thrill to bring your engoing saga full circle.

  25. My Edible Yard December 3, 2010 at 5:17 am #

    Mazel Tov! May you enjoy many happy years of gardening on your lot. I’m sure you have enough ideas on your own as to what to do with it–you’ve been dreaming the plans for years. What about making the house you live yours, too? You could then rent out the bottom floor as a source of income. Food for thought (pun intended).

    Ara Morenberg Cochran

  26. Alys Fowler December 3, 2010 at 5:33 am #

    that is the most wonderful news! congratulation! From this snowy bit of England

  27. AJ December 3, 2010 at 7:18 am #


  28. mosprott December 3, 2010 at 7:34 am #

    ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod!!!!!

    N, I’ve worried and worried about you guys losing the lot – that is truly the most awesome – wonderful – fantastic! – news!!! So incredible!!! Tear up the concrete and PLANT, BABY, PLANT!!!

  29. Erik December 3, 2010 at 7:55 am #

    Congrat’s!!!!!!!!!!! Now it’s time to buy the block:) Soon you’ll be the Donald Trump of Ghost Town and have razed the buildings to the ground. It could your version

  30. Erik December 3, 2010 at 7:58 am #

    Congrat’s!!!!!!!!!!! Now it’s time to buy the block:) Soon you’ll be the Donald Trump of Ghost Town and have razed the buildings to the ground. It could your version of Disneyland. go go go!

  31. Lisa H December 3, 2010 at 9:01 am #

    Hey Novella,

    Wow, huge news…Congratulations! You have such a lovely large space with lots of sun, I’m so envious…My advice: rent some jack hammers and have a big urbanite busting party.

    Lisa H.

  32. susan December 3, 2010 at 9:54 am #

    Total Karma, m’dear.

  33. Lisa December 3, 2010 at 9:56 am #

    So, so wonderful! Congratulations!

  34. Nancy R December 3, 2010 at 10:19 am #

    I am so happy for you! Ever since I read your book, I’ve been following your blog. This is such wonderful news. I’m attempting the urban homestead thing in Florida. I get my inspiration from people like you. You are amazing with all you do and for your community. The whole time I was reading your book, I was hoping this would be the ending. Congratulations.

  35. Paula December 3, 2010 at 10:29 am #

    Stunning. Really stunning! Congratulations!

    Espaliering fruit trees is a great idea- I’m doing that to eight apple trees because I read that besides taking up less room, they actually produce more. Of course you know not to put them where they’ll create shade (unless you want that).

    Have you heard of the Dervaes family in Pasadena? They are getting 6,000 pounds of food off a tenth of an acre (because their house takes the other tenth), so they have the ins for getting a lot of food off a little land. I’m thinking once you get your farm status you could go at growing a lot. See http://urbanhomestead.org/

    And congratulations again!!

  36. Paula B. December 3, 2010 at 10:37 am #

    Congrats! Wow, this amazing news brought me tears of joy and excitement. I am so stoked for you!
    THANKS for sharing your adventures with the urban farming community…….it means a lot (no pun intended).

  37. Liz December 3, 2010 at 10:59 am #

    Sounds like time for a PARTY!

  38. Sue December 3, 2010 at 11:40 am #

    Yiippppeeeee! I am so happy for you that I just cheered & clapped as I read the good news….may have done a little happy dance with the dog around the kitchen as well 😉 I love it when good things happen to good people. Helps bolster my faith in Karma a bit.

  39. scott December 3, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    Hi Novella,

    I never thought I would get emotional over good fortune landing on someone I have never meet…Although I feel like I have known you for years. Guess that’s why. Thanks for making my day.

    Your friend from the Gaskill Hood now living in Florida…

  40. Carrie Ann December 3, 2010 at 1:16 pm #

    Awesome news. Congratulations and best of luck. I’m very much looking forward to reading about the goings on.

  41. Jack H. December 3, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    It sure is nice to see good things happen to deserving people!

  42. Yolanda December 3, 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    Wow Novella! Such great news. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer, more generous person.

    Looking forward to you sharing your brainstorms! Espalier is good; the time is now…..

  43. Rena December 3, 2010 at 5:41 pm #

    Novella, your good news has totally made my day. Congratulations – guess you’re there to stay, huh!?
    Now go research how much property tax and insurance and a water (maybe even electrical?) hookup will be. Don’t spend any money until you understand all those costs.
    I’m really happy for you. I’m happy for the seller too – she did the right thing by selling to someone who would really take care of the property and help the neighborhood.

    You make the world a better place, Novella. Keep at it!

  44. FCC December 3, 2010 at 6:22 pm #

    I literally just finished reading your Urban Farm book an hour ago, where the ending made it seem like the lot would get transformed into condos soon, so this is exciting to hear! Good luck! I may swing by sometime during one of your open house events (like during the Eat Real thing), since I already live in Oakland!

  45. Katie December 3, 2010 at 7:05 pm #

    How fantastically exciting! I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

  46. heather t December 3, 2010 at 7:51 pm #


    About the cabbages, I imagine anyone who would steal cabbage must really need the food, because… it’s cabbage, and I’m sure there’s a lot of other really tasty stuff on the log. I’d have to be starving for sure before I’d steal cabbage! 🙂

  47. Antoniomo December 3, 2010 at 8:13 pm #

    Amazing! Congratulations!!

  48. sara December 3, 2010 at 8:18 pm #

    High-five!!!! This is the best kind of news. Congrats, Novella!

    I think I would start with the fruit trees, were it me. When they are small, you can always relocate them as needed. Even if you just have them in 5 gallon pots bought from Urban Ore for a song, it’s a start. My citruses have moved across the yard in their pots probably five times this year, looking for the perfect spot to just dig them in finally.

    What condition is the dirt in, underneath the concrete? I hope you don’t have to stick to raised beds.

    And the goats definitely need more play space.

  49. ill December 3, 2010 at 9:13 pm #


  50. Carbzilla December 3, 2010 at 10:04 pm #

    I love it when great things happen to good people. It seems like such a rarity these days. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!

  51. Sheila Z December 3, 2010 at 11:47 pm #

    Congratulations, now you are a land baron! Pigs again?

  52. patrick December 4, 2010 at 5:30 am #

    very happy for you.

  53. Erika December 4, 2010 at 7:20 am #

    Oh how exciting! I’m so happy for you, and I cannot wait to see how things progress. Just remember to take your time and enjoy the process. All these wonderful things you’ll be doing won’t happen overnight. I’ll definitely be cheering you on as you go!

  54. Sarah December 4, 2010 at 9:28 am #

    That’s frickin’ awesome–congratulations!
    I’m currently reading your book and really enjoy it. It reminds me of my childhood! I also enjoyed the article about you in VOGUE written by Hamish Bowles. You’re a rad lady!

  55. Jenn December 4, 2010 at 11:29 am #

    That’s fantastic – congratulations!

  56. Bonnie December 4, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

    This is wonderful news. It is always good to hear about unexpected blessings. I am sure you are busy sketching out your ideas. I know community is important to you and you want to use this as an educational tool, so don’t forget well thought out pathways that guide you through the gardens. Even though you do not have to depend on raised beds they are still the best way to get the most out of a limited space with the least amount of work. They also discourage having your crops trampled by visiters. Although I agree with Heather that perhaps the people taking the cabbage are hungry, I think cabbage is very tasty. Good luck, we look forward to reading where this will take you.

  57. Pam December 4, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    I just finished your book last week and have been worrying about you losing that piece of land ever since!! Well, now I can rest easy. 🙂 It is so promising for those of us who dream to actually see someone making it happen! All the best!

  58. laura December 4, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

    that is so great! congratulations!!

  59. Wendy December 4, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    Holy cow! Congratulations! I’ve been impressed with all you’ve done on squatted land, and I can hardly wait to hear about the adventures you’ll have now that it’s actually your land to do with as you please ;). So, exciting!

  60. Joellen Hiltbrand December 4, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

    I am so so happy happy for you! That is absolutely great news and gives me hope both for urban agriculture in Oakland and for community-building efforts in my city.

    Congratulations, Novella and Bill. You have worked really hard for this and I’m so glad it came at a price you could afford.

    Can’t wait to hear your plans as they develop.

  61. Julie December 4, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    You are a special woman and you are living an unusual path…I for one am not surprised by this lovely opportunity. Were I the owner of the property you have reclaimed and brought to life I would want you to have it too! I expect you will continue to share your life and art (and property : ))

  62. Birgitt December 4, 2010 at 11:41 pm #

    HUZZAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That is fantastic!!!!

    And how perfect that that poor abused and neglected land go to the one person who has loved it and cared for it.

    I would suggest trying to remove the asphalt a little at a time. Testing the soil beneath, of course.

  63. Gaelan December 5, 2010 at 6:08 am #

    Y’know, all through my many re-readings of your book, and the occasional archive binge on your blog, there’s been a little undercurrent running through my brain “Yes, this is all very interesting, but what will she do when the owner builds on that lot? That’s going to be horrible. Where will she go? How will she move all her animals? Will she buy her own place? What’s going to happen?”

    Now I know what’s going to happen, and congratulations! I was actually really excited when I read that second paragraph, so much so that I turned in my seat to say “Oh my god, Novella and Bill bought the land they’ve been squat-farming on” to my fiancee…at which point I realized that she doesn’t read this blog, hasn’t read your book, and would have no idea what I’m talking about.

  64. KRobb_AMP December 5, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    Congratulations! I’m so happy for you. I’ve really loved following your adventure. What a wonderful holiday gift!

  65. Naomi Schiff December 5, 2010 at 11:05 pm #

    Three congratulatory cheers for you, and three grateful cheers for S! (and maybe a cheer for those tiger lilies as well)

  66. dc December 6, 2010 at 9:10 am #

    So happy for you :o) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  67. Amani December 6, 2010 at 6:25 pm #

    Congratulations! What a great step in the right direction. I am staying tuned for developments!

  68. Rebecca December 7, 2010 at 10:21 am #

    Novella, I just started reading your book yesterday and stayed up until 3 in the morning reading, it was so good! I’m only halfway through “Rabbit” but I found your blog this morning and am elated for your happy beginning! I got goosebumps all over reading this post. Congratulations!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Let those roots grow deep!

  69. Jason December 7, 2010 at 11:02 pm #

    Novella: You don’t know me, but I feel I know you a bit from reading your book and blog. I couldn’t be happier for you.

  70. Raf December 8, 2010 at 2:53 am #

    Yay!! Glad you got a happy ending! =D Now no more stress ’cause it’s yours! At the end of the book it said that you were facing eviction and I was so sad but after stumbling upon your blog… calls for celebration!! Wewt wewt!!

    I read your book in my English class (at Laney College) and I loved it!! I couldn’t believe that someone was doing urban farming in Oakland and had pigs/turkeys on top of it! Amazing! I live in Oakland too and it’s really awesome to hear about this. You are an amazing and hilarious writer. I was laughing out loud a lot while reading

    Although at times, I was like, “Are we talking about the same Oakland? lol”

    The part about you and Billy scavenging for food in Chinatown for the pigs and the pigs satisfaction over their food was so funny.

  71. Kate December 8, 2010 at 7:35 am #

    Can’t wait to see those condos go up.

  72. Mike Ciraolo December 8, 2010 at 1:13 pm #

    Hey Novella – what wonderful, unexpected news! Like others, I feel like I know you from your book and blog, even if you don’t know me.

    Now that you own it — a few ideas, per your request: As someone with a thriving food garden at home in Albany (CA), I’d definitely suggest a small greenhouse, if only to help the seedlings along during the colder month; it would help you get more year-round crop production. I’d also recommend a trip to the Berkeley King Middle School Edible Schoolyard for inspiration (not that you need it)…a pizza oven…an outdooor seating area…espaliered fruit trees on the property line.
    And I’d definitely suggest moving it forward as a working farm, registered business, etc., once Oaktown OKs urban ag — lots of us are looking for direction/inspiration/lessons on how to manage urban farming as a full-fledged business.

    Welcome to the world of property ownership!!!

  73. Skya Livingston December 9, 2010 at 11:22 am #

    I simply must join the others in congratulating you. I’m so excited I feel like I was the one who just bought the lot next door!!

  74. bobbi vogel December 12, 2010 at 2:15 pm #

    Hey…thanks for the mention 🙂 Love to hear how its going! Stoked to have been part of your dream….very cool

  75. Leah December 14, 2010 at 3:13 pm #

    Wow – congratulations! That is crazy exciting news. Love your blog and love what you do!

    The Hackney City Farm is planting a food forest in the park across from my house. It made me think of Ghost Town Farm.

  76. Kathy December 17, 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    This is great news Novella! I’d say the universe orchestrated a sweet deal for you….love it when good things happen to nice people. Congratulations!

  77. Jeremy December 24, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

    Love and miss you guys very much – so happy that you own the farm now!!!!

  78. ruth poe February 14, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    I know I’m a little late to the game … but, I got this book called Farm City for my birthday last week and finished it last night. And now I’ve found this blog and this particular post and I am sooooo happy. (If only following up on Bronte novels were this easy).

    Anyway, congrats, etc. Loved loved loved your book, will peruse the shit out of your blog and may even show up on the 27th. I am a total fan and now understand how my seventeen year old can idolize Justin Bieber … keep up the work! Many of us are watching.

    Thanks!! Ruth “another crazy urban gorilla gardener” in Scotts Valley (can you say SUVs?)

  79. Jennifer in MamaLand February 14, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    Another latecomer – I just finished reading the book today, popped over here to see if there was a postscript, and indeed – this is one heckuva postscript. You deserve it; I am SO glad there is this kind of justice in the world.

  80. Librarianka March 9, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    Hello Novella,
    I just finished reading your book, and I was sooo impressed! Your book has moved me in so many ways it’s even hard to tell. And now I found your blog and this old news. I am not surprised at all, that things worked out for you the way they did! They always do for anybody with so much passion, dedications, not too mention someone who is working so hard plus wants to do good in the community.
    I plan to talk your book in the book club, I want others to be as impressed and moved as I have been.

  81. Bonnie Jean March 12, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    I just finished reading your book, I found it by chance at my library while looking for books on chickens. I was so intrigued I couldn’t put it down until it was done! It really has me getting serious about what more I can do with my lot, besides a few vegetables and the 5 chickens I’ll be recieving in a couple of weeks. The whole idea of urban farming in my town is well, odd to people, and we’re not very big, (pop. 19,000) in fairly rural surroundings. I am so inspired, thank you!
    I’m so excited to see you bought your lot! I can’t wait to skim through your blog and see what else has happened since the end of the book.

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