Monthly Archives: April 2011

How Novella Got Her Bees Back

Thanks to my new friend Maurice, I got my bees back.

Amidst the tribulations I’ve been having this year–the city crack down on me being the most obvious–I lost my bee hive. I noticed fewer and fewer bees going in and out, and then I had to admit it: they were gone. I did a CSI-type investigation, and it looked like the queen was laying too many drones, or had died. Almost formed queen cells were all over the hive. Trouble was, it probably got too cold for them to hatch out a new queen and have her fly out for her nuptials. There was honey in the hive, but not much. There was also mold–such a wet year!

Sad, it had been a great hive for three solid years, providing better pollination and tons of delish honey, but the least of my worries.

Still, when Maurice called and said he had a huge swarm from one of his beehives, I was psyched to come over and collect it. What was funny was, I could barely remember how to catch a swarm. It had been too many years. How did I hold the bottom box together with the bottom board? Luckily, M is a pro, and we extracted the swarm out of the chain link fence/branch combo. A big, basketball size swarm. M wrapped the box up with his surfboard strap for easy carrying. I got to put them in a better place–further to the south, so I can have more space for my urban farmer’s market (when will that happen again? next year?).

They seem to be adjusting nicely to the new surroundings. As soon as the rains stop, I’ll go in and add another super. I pulled out all my old dead hive’s frames to air them out on a table. I noticed the new bees buzzed over to the frames and started collecting all the old honey and wax to build the new hive. It’s nature’s way of recycling. I’m just glad to help.

Sort of related, I’ll be reading in Seattle, where I first started beekeeping! April 28! It’s a fundraiser for AlleyCat Acres, a Seattle-based urban farming organization. Here are the details…
Where: Washington Hall, 153 – 14th Avenue (at Fir), Seattle, WA

When: April 28, 7pm-10pm


Also, I’ll be at the following places next week doing my dog and pony show:

April 26: UC Berkeley, 12:30, 390 Hearst Mining

April 27: Laney Community College, Noon, 4th floor, T-450.

See ya around….

Donations count

I can’t believe how nice you all are.
I feel like I’ve been spare-changing my friends. Or just being a bar-fly at the local watering hole, blubbering.
Thanks to you all who donated, thought about donating, wanted to donate but haven’t yet, or wanted to donate but can’t. I haven’t quite figured out PayPal will interact with my bank (I’m slow), but it looks like we’ve reached the $2500 goal in pledges. This is so rad, I had no idea you’d all spring for me–thank you, thank you.
Ok, gotta go pack for my talk at Western Kentucky.

Not My Neighbors! And, an Apology

Hey Guys!

I’m really starting to feel better about this. Maybe it’s just hormones. Maybe it’s all your good vibes. Maybe I’m understanding how this is going to go down. BTW, I have a great lawyer–Janelle Orsi–so that’s covered.

Speaking of politicians, I’ve been going door to door talking to my neighbors and I want to clarify something for Mayor Quan and others: None of my neighbors complained about my farm. They are all signing a petition, and are slapping their heads that Oakland would be targeting me. We’re going to stage a group photo and send it to the Mayor, in fact. To reiterate: this isn’t a neighbor complaint issue. If it were, I would correct my behavior immediately because that’s how things are done in my neighborhood. We don’t snitch on each other. We help each other. If there’s a problem, we work it out by ourselves, not using the City.

So who did call? I must apologize to animal rights activists: I am sorry I blamed you. Because of emails I’ve received from the House Rabbit Society zealots and an informant, I think it must have been them calling the City of Oakland. I know there’s a difference between the HRS folks and vegans/animal rights activists. Some of my best friends are vegans! We all agree that factory farms are wrong. Thanks especially to logolady who left a comment on my blog. Thank you for calling me out. I’m going to stop fixating on who turned me in. It’s OK, I forgive them, and I’m moving on.

Maybe I’m feeling tranquil because I’m understanding that this is going to be a long, drawn-out process. I also see that certain organizations and politicians don’t want to help me or associate. It’s all kind of interesting to see how the straight world works. Wouldn’t want to stick your neck out, right, politicians?

Finally, a note of thanks to the Oakland Food Policy Council who has been working on the issue of urban agriculture in the City of Oakland for years. They have a really concise, simple petition that goes over how they see urban ag working in the City of Oakland. Please sign

Another Bomb

Well, it’s gotten personal now.

I received my notices from the city today via certified mail. The first one I expected–the lot, the CUP, the vegetables and the animals. No problem! I understand that one, I’ve gnawed it to death, so much, it actually makes sense to me. I’ll pay the city to keep my animals. I’ll get a business license to sell vegetables. That’s fine.

Problem was, there was another, surprising notice. It too says “Notice to Abate”, but it lists my home address, my landlord’s name and his address. The list of violations are: “Conducting a Crop and Animal Raising Activity without benefit of Zoning approvals. That’s OMC/OPC codes 17.20.030 and 17.20.040. When I looked up the code, it says there are permitted residential activities, and then there are the conditionally use permitted activities which include:
Agricultural and Extractive Activities:

Plant Nursery

Crop and Animal Raising

Now, I live in a duplex with a backyard, it says it’s zone R36. I called the zoning department and they told me R36 refers to mostly historical houses in the flatlands (which, btw, have the highest incidence of food insecurity). I’ve always thought I could legally keep chickens, rabbits, goats, ducks, and bees in a residential area without a conditional use permit. Note that I never sell eggs, poultry, goat milk/products, rabbits, or ducks–they are for home consumption. If I’m being told that this fundamental right to grow my own food isn’t legal, than I might just have to set myself on fire.

The Notice to Abate has no other comments on it, except that if I take “substandard action” it might result in me having to “vacate the premises should conditions warrant.” It isn’t even clear why I’m being cited, or what behavior I’m supposed to change.

City of Oakland: You are playing with people’s lives. This could really fuck up my life. I could get evicted, for example. I might have to get rid of my animals. All because one guy came to my house, took photos, and decided that I wasn’t in compliance with some confusing code that is supposedly changing anyway. I still don’t even know what I’m supposed to do to fix the problem.

Why is Oakland after me? Why am I being targeted? For those of you who want to shake a finger at me and tell me that I should’ve known better, I hope the City comes after you for some random, never enforced law that you didn’t know existed. Actually, I take that back, I wouldn’t wish this Kafka-esque nightmare on my worst enemy.

This issue is about the control of the food system. Whoever can grow their food at their residence holds some power, some control. And now that Oakland is trying to take that right away from me, I am feeling helpless, scared, and I can’t stop crying imagining my dear sweet milk goats going to live somewhere else, my chickens taken off to some other place, or my rabbits scattered to the wind. I am powerless, but at least I have this blog; and at least I know there are people all across the country fighting for our food sovereignty.

Asking for Help

Update: Thanks to everyone who donated so far, I’m up to over $1,000 from mostly small donations $5-20. You guys rule!

It’s really hard for me to ask for help. I’m used to doing things myself, helping other people, and figuring out some jankity way to make things work out. Welp, the time has come for me to admit that I can’t figure this out by myself, and I don’t have an extra $2500 floating around. Last night Bill and I were at Berkeley Bowl and I asked him, “Am I really in trouble? or am I just being whiney?” Bill said, “Of course, this is total BS! We pay property taxes on that lot, and spent our last pennies to buy it so we can have a farm and now they say you can’t have the farm? Do you know how much money we’re spending so you can have some chickens or ducks?”

It’s true, this is stupid. Why am I even trying? Why not just move to the country and do whatever I want? Why be so deviant, why not just go buy my food at the grocery store and shut the fuck up?

I’ll tell you why: I love Oakland. I love the people who live here, and I love my neighborhood. It is like freaking sesame street walking down the damn street with everyone saying hi and helping each other out. I even don’t mind the city–they are just doing their job. And, at the same time, I love keeping animals and growing vegetables. I adore my goats and my egg laying chickens, and my meat ducks. That’s what my book Farm City is all about–figuring out how to live in the city and raise my own healthy, delicious food. What was surprising to me was when Farm City came out and people got so excited about urban farming for themselves. This enthusiasm and excitement has been a by-product of the farm–or should I say a value added product?–and makes me realize that I can’t stop and just walk away. Your words of support keep me doing what I’m doing.

When we saved our money and finally bought the lot after squatting for so many years, I felt like I could finally relax and build on what we started. That’s still what I want to do: make a teaching space, a hub for other urban farmers to sell their extra produce and honey, and a demonstration for best practices for urban farming. But these troubles from the city and the animal rights activists rabbit nazis and people who think what I’m doing is Weird, are really kicking my ass. It’s eating up all my time and energy, and I’m running out of money.

I know lots of people have sent offers of help my set up various systems to raise money, sorry I didn’t get back to you yet. I was trying to figure out how to do it myself. So, check it out, there’s a paypal button on the right sidebar of this blog (I’m a technophobe to the core–thanks Marg and Daniel for your help). Feel free to give, and know that I’ll use the money to fight the urban farming fight. Note that these donations are not tax deductible. They’re gifts to a private entity.

April Fool’s Day

I found out today that it’s true that it’s illegal for me to grow chard on my lot.

I wish that was an April Fool’s joke.

Triggered by the San Francisco Chronicle’s story about me, a really cool guy came by from the City of Oakland Planning Department and walked me through the issue. This is what I wanted from the beginning–direct communication from the city. What I found out is kind of sucky, but better than that feeling of not knowing, or facing a complete shut-down of my farmlette.

The deal is that growing any food on an “empty lot” in the City of Oakland is illegal. I’m supposed to have applied for a conditional use permit to grow vegetables. What’s crazy is this law is on lots of books throughout America. Now that just ain’t American–can’t we do what we want on our private property? After 8 years of flouting laws by squat gardening in the lot, I lost my punk renegade status when I bought the lot, but now, paradoxically,┬ámy outlaw status was regained by buying it and continuing to be a farmer. Shoulda stayed punk, I guess.

Water under the bridge, though. I asked the City guy what I should do. Luckily, in two weeks, April 14, the Phase 1 of Oakland’s new urban ag laws will take effect, making it legal to grow vegetables on empty lots. What will still be illegal is my bodacious chicken/duck/rabbit palace–Phase 1 doesn’t cover livestock.

If I want to keep livestock (which I do, very important to have manure for the garden, but also a great source of eggs and meat and happiness), I have to apply for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) which will cost $2500. That’s sucky. If I want to sell produce, I should apply for a business license which costs $40 (no worries). I’m going to do all of this and become so sparklingly legit I can’t be targeted by haters.

What good can come out of this? I guess people should learn from me and apply for the CUP. Or learn from me, and just live under the radar, don’t blog about farmstands (they are watching you), stay undercover and enjoy the outlaw status. If you’re interested in getting involved with legalizing local food production in Oakland, the guy from the City urged people to get involved with the next stages of planning for urban ag in Oakland–Phase 2 will be unveiled in 6-8 months, and they need people to show up and tell the city which direction to go. Should they allow livestock on property like mine without a CUP (that would be nice…who can afford $2500?), how many animals should they allow and what kind? what else should they allow–the sale of homemade products? what about animal processing and classes? If you’re interested in going to meetings and shaping the new laws, email the woman in charge of organizing this dialogue (this includes you rabbit fanatics–I agree that everyone should have a say in their government, but please, don’t be such wack-a-dos and recognize that the worst contributors to animal pain are large factory farms, why don’t you spend time fighting them instead? we have more in common than you think.):

Now I’m going to go take a nap, because all of this has been really stressful and exhausting. Thanks for your support. Oh, and yeah, I need to raise $2500–anyone have any ideas? Guess the nap is going to have to wait.

Big love to you all.