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, my 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.): hklein@oaklandnet.com

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.







58 responses to “April Fool’s Day

  1. Novella: paypal donations from your website. Where is your paypal button?

  2. MotherLodeBeth

    From 3-4pm today on the way home to San Andreas I was listening to KGO radio out of SF and the entire hour was about you and your plight. The host noted that SF is about to make it legal for anyone to grow food on their property and sell it without any grief from the city. The host also said its foolish NOT to have a bare lot growing food, rather than weeds and drug junk cast offs.

    Then a woman from San Leandro south of you in Oakland said that city WANTS people to replace grass yards with food and low water plants. I know it was a few years ago (which surprised me) that Berkeley made it legal to grow vegetables in the front yard.

  3. MotherLodeBeth

    Also wanted to note that it was the late actor Jimmy Stewart and his wife Gloria who had chickens in Beverly Hills who convinced Ron and I to get back into chickens when we lived in Dublin CA. Have had them in Jackson, Valley Springs and now the Sierras proper.

  4. Jean Norris

    Your about-to-be business license will no doubt cover anything else you want to retail, with some reasonable mark-up. How about revolving composters, soon?

  5. Brent Eubanks

    I’m surprised to hear that your livestock is a problem, particularly if it’s just chickens, ducks, and rabbits. When we moved to Oakland, we scanned through the codes and as far as we could tell the only limitations on chickens were:
    1) No roosters
    2) keep them a distance (10 feet? don’t remember) away from the property line.

    Is this issue with the number of animals that you have, or the fact that you have them at all? Was the city person helpful enough to point you to the city code elements that govern these things? If so, please post the reference!


  6. Novella,

    You should maybe start a http://www.kickstarter.com/ account. I think that would be appropriate. Put you goal as $2500 and I’m sure you’d get it in no time. I sure would kick in a few bucks.

  7. I found your blog through a link from Truth is Contagious.

    Looking through the photos your gardening (really farming!) work is really awesome! Keep up the good work and don’t let the Big Gov stop you.

    Local, urban farming is the only way people will survive the coming oil shocks.

  8. I’d toss in a few bucks too. Consider it my advance payment for you kicking some City of Oakland ass, Novella. Let us know when you’ve got a donation link. And I still know some peeps in Oakland. They’re not foodie renegade types, so they probably won’t show up for a meeting. But if you ever do an online petition or something, I’m sure they’d sign, so let us know and I’ll pass the word.

  9. There is a huge music community that would love nothing more than to play a benefit concert either in your cul de sac or somewhere else. I tottally agree that for lower income folks the cost for the CUP should be closer to you know, $25. I think middle class people should pay $250 and you know the rich should pay $2500, or $25,000 or $250,000 whatever, they are supposed to be rich right? Toward the higher income might have something to do with corporations and acreage. The law is conspicuously discriminatory. That was what my point was going on about price margins. Marginalization. That’s what government does best. Keep me posted if you have a music event. I’m guessing this is what all kinds of collectives have had to do, or will start doing. People’s Park has concerts in the summer, etc. Good luck.

  10. Stephanie D

    I 3rd the kickstarter idea. I’d love to pitch in a little to help you out.

  11. kickstarter! for sure. you’ll get to $2500 quicker than you can imagine.

  12. Novella, you’re no good to me any more, just anotha drone…who knew such a mess would come out of your awesome book!?
    Tell you what, I’m still a tree-top flyer, and I have a PayPal button ready to go…
    Best wishes from your biggest fans in south Georgia.
    Tripp out.

  13. $2,500 for what? This is nutz. What a rip off. The city should be paying you for cleaning up the dammed neighborhood and providing some nutritious food for the locals. Big difference in food value between a $2 bunch of chard and a $2 bag of chips. I know what the city food ghettos are like. You can walk for blocks and find only convenience stores selling nothing but beer, chips, candy, cookies, snack cakes, soda pop, etc. Endless food desserts of sugar, hydrogenated fat, white flour and artificial flavor/ colors. Not a bit of fresh produce or real food to be found. Then they wonder why people are diabetic and costing the county so much in health care?

    I hope the bastards are reading your blog and the comments too. They need a real wake up call. The public is getting fed up and wants this shit to change!

  14. If you filed as a non-profit/educational farm would you have to pay the same fee? You’re already teaching people about urban farming every day through the blog, your book, etc.

  15. Kickstarter is a great idea, perfect for this purpose.

  16. I fifteen the call for a way for your readers to kick in a little!!!!! If you got 25 from each of us you’d only owe.. okay fine, something like 2300 bucks. But it’s a start 🙂

    You’ve done amazing things for our city and for urban farming, so please keep your chin up. You inspired me to coordinate a garden at my apartment building, also in Oakland! (okay we’re feeding the bugs really well, but whatever, it’s a start)

  17. Someone suggested that you incorporate as a nonprofit. Might be worth looking into since donors can use contributions as tax deductions, and you can qualify for grants (though grant-writing is a job in itself). Someone else suggested that you contact folks in the music community for support. In that regard, Jack Johnson’s foundation (http://allatonce.org/home/) seeks to collaborate with “sustainable local food systems.”

    I’d be happy to chip in if you set up a donation account (PayPal’s quick and easy). And I’ll buy your book. I have no idea what your percentage is on book sales, but every bit counts.

    I’ll also post a link on AZ Homegrown Solutions (http://azhomegrownsolutions.ning.com/) to see if I can stimulate some support from my local sustainability community.

    Thanks for standing your (our) ground.

  18. My husband thinks you should crowd source the money using Kickstarter. I think you can “offer” things (like tours) in exchange for capital. (Kickstarter.com) Good luck. I just know that everything will work out. Thanks for forging the way for so many!

  19. Jonah Silas Seridan

    I’m with S@sha. How much of this BS could you bypass by incorporating as an non-profit and selling food as a “fundraiser” for your education programs?

    I have never felt like Ghost Town was a business entity, and it shouldn’t have to be just because you engage in small time distribution of your crops. Better to use the 501c3 for your protection, pay yourself a salary and move on. I would be happy to help, although I am just an activist techie!

  20. Oakland Sux. Always has. Always will. I grew up there. Couldn’t wait to move away.

  21. Roger Smith

    A possible way around all of this BS that the “government” is throwing at you is to go down to your local ag office and pay $25 +/- for a “Certified Producers Certificate” which is the permit you need to sell at the State sponsered local farmers market. http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/egov/farmersmarket/producers_app_step1.asp Where I live (agreed not the bay area) I am under the impression that I can sell off my property anything that I grow. I am, of course still subject to all the health codes for “processed” products. This route should allow you to sell chard, beets, lettuce, etc. It might possibly let you sell live meat but as soon as you process them you hit a brick wall. If you sell by the pound you will need a “certified scale” but if you do it by the bunch or each not to worry. Go down to your local Farmers Market and talk to the manager and find out what paperwork you would need to sell there. If you let them know that you “might” want to sell there in the future the manager should be helpfull. It is quite possible that the person at the market is not the person that you need to talk to but they should be able to provide you with the name and contact information of the person that you should talk to.

    I have been selling at our local farmers market, off and on, for close to 30 years (the oldest “certified” market in the state of Ca), and although I live in the county and not a city I have never had a problem with folks taking any complaint to higher ups when I inform them I am “certified”.

    It may be that “county law” or “state law” supperscedes (sp) city law and you would be good to go for $25 +/-.

    Good Luck


  22. Totally do a PayPal!!! I can do $25 and there are at least another 99 out there who will do the same. Yes, just do the Pay Pal thing and don’t over think it. It’s not capitalism, nor charity, it’s a donation and we love to vote with our dollars!

  23. I think it’s really important that everyone who can does go to the city council meetings or the crazy rabbit people will prohibit everyone from having livestock in the city. I truly believe that’s one thing that has to change.

    You also need to help them legislate humane treatment, otherwise, what’s the point. Go make yourselves heard.

  24. Agreed, please get a PayPal button for the site or let us know a PayPal email address where we can send a gift of support. I was touched and inspired by watching your videos a few weeks back.

  25. I agree — even before I clicked into the comments, I thought: “I can throw some money at this, and I know others can, too.” Please keep us posted and let us know how you want us to donate.

  26. Yeah – I’d send a couple of bucks by paypal. Hook it up!


  27. There’s a lot of confusion swirling around just what is going on. Some commenters are well-intentioned but either assuming that their local laws apply everywhere, or that the issues are not the ones on the table. Issues of profit vs. non-profit, live animals vs. killed ones, chard vs. beets aren’t even in the compliance radar. Any discussion of getting around the fees/fines by giving food away misses the problem.

    Currently, the farm is out of all compliance for that zoning area. She just can’t grow vegetables and keep livestock on land her house isn’t on —in that zoning area. Fortunately, and in no small part to a dedicated band of City employees, this situation is changing through regulatory changes in the first couple weeks of April, so that a CUP would allow “crop and animal raising” on almost any lot in the city, even a non-residential lot, specific size and scope to be determined. This would be hashed out through each specific application process, taking into account each applicant’s circumstances — not financial ability. Whether or not you believe city fees should alter according to income is a completely different argument — but City fees are set to apply uniformly by Council legislation just like City laws are.

    And when a City employee shows up to talk on a “Mandatory shut down day” for the City? That employee isn’t getting paid for that time or work. So for everyone who seems to think it’s da Man coming to harass bunnies. . . well. City staff has to respond to complaints, but some are clearly working to help explain the process — they’re not “just doing my job, ma’am” automatons.

    In addition, the planning staff — NOT the code enforcement section of the building department, no matter what they’re called in the press — is working quite hard to change the need for a CUP, and hope that by the end of the year to have the law allow crop and animal raising city-wide.

    So — pay for a CUP to be in compliance for the rest of the year, and be protected into the future by that compliance? Seems like a no-brainer to someone who’s gotten by without a citizen-driven complaint for years, especially when people are lining up to contribute to pay it.

  28. Dang! This is crazy. I’m with everyone else – donations!

  29. Kickstarter is AWESOME. Might be quicker to just do the paypal thing..but kickstarter is great. There’s a bit of overhead to the tool but it has a lot of features and good support.

    Fight the good fight. Know things ARE changing… because people change them.

    (Enough of all this anti-gubment stuff…we ARE the government. We just need to get off our butts and take charge)

  30. 6.04.290 – Keeping certain animals in apartment house, hotel and business district.

    It is unlawful for any person to raise, or keep, live chickens, ducks, geese or other fowl, or pigeons, rabbits, guinea pigs or goats, in any enclosure or yard on property occupied by an apartment house or hotel or in a business district in the city, except when such fowl or animals are kept within a bona fide produce market, commission house or store for purposes of trade and, while so kept, are confined in small coops, boxes or cages.

  31. The lot isn’t occupied by anything but vegetation. Do the vacant buildings surrounding the lot qualify as a business district?

  32. I’m glad you are going to be able to work things out to be “legal” and get the bunny huggers off of your back. I do think it’s a total load of crap having to pay that much! I’m not from your area, but we used to own 1/2 acre in a tiny Oregon town, and had to keep our pet bunnies illegally. You are right, speaking up and working to make a change in the laws is the way. Good luck!

  33. Now you’re like Hammer…too legit to quit! Kickstarter is, for sure, the way to go! Knowledge is power, so I know you must feel better!

  34. amaamamamada

    thanks for the info.
    i’m very interested in being apart of the planning process.
    we’ve got to get involved and be apart of the discussion.

  35. Señor Madera Roja de la Secoya

    I would let you use my place, but it’s in the middle of Missouri. No one here cares about that stuff. But, then, there’s also no one to sell to, either.

  36. dan.kameny@gmail.com

    Can’t you just “give away” what you grow and people can “donate” what they see fit like when you go to a museum? I bet you would make out better if you already have a loyal following.

  37. Diane Sigman

    Paypal or kickstart–like I said yesterday, we aren’t gonna let you lose Ghost Town Farm.

    Keep your head up and please keep writing!

    Hugs from a stranger down San Pablo,


  38. If she cannot grow on land that her house isn’t on, as stefaneener says, she can easily combine her lot with the newly-bought lot. It is a legal process. That is what people do when they want to build an addition that will come too close to a property line or straddle it. My house is on a combined lot. It had to be combined to allow the building of the house.

  39. $2500 should be easy to raise. The inspiration you have provided me is well worth it. We are with you Novella! Where should I send my donation?

  40. I’d donate to PayPal. Have never done Kickstart, but if it’s easy, OK.

    Read your book and am a big fan.

    You’re doing the right thing.

  41. Paul Salinger

    lots of good suggestions here. something like kickstarter is great for raising small amounts quickly and it certainly seems like you’ve got lots of supporters. one other suggestion might be to work with the Slow Money folks. Their charter is investing in small farms and farmers and sustainable farming. Their Executive Director, Ari Derfel, is a co-founder of Gather Restaurant and is local. He just spoke yesterday at TedxPresidio.

    Whatever you end up doing, I will definitely kick in to the $2500 you need for the CU permit.

  42. I agree with everyone that said to put on a Paypal button; last year, I raised the fee to get my permaculture design certificate through my blog, and far less people knew about it than are aware of your plight! Thank you for being a brave pioneer.

  43. Hi Novella!
    I’m in Oklahoma, been reading your blog since I left last spring- it’s a little taste of home, since I used to live just down the road! You are doing amazing things and you are a total inspiration..I wish more people here were even thinking about what you are doing with that lot. You are on to something and you have an amazing community to help you with it. Just wanted to let you know you have support from out here too!
    Everything will be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay, then it’s not the end…
    PS, I wanna kick in too, once you figure out how!

  44. I can NOT in conscience approve or donate to you paying the crooked mob you call the city to be able raise your own food. you should absolutely NOT apply for those permits, its like funding organized crime. Civil disobedience is the only way to stop this disgusting practice of oppression by the city.

  45. That sucks! I am so sorry. I just worked with other volunteers for a year in our small town of Berea, KY to get our city leaders to change the ordinance banning chickens. It was a hot topic in our town, kinda nuts when you think we just want to have a few hens in our backyards.

    But the ordinance did get changed and I think it’s a good sign that your city is moving towards changing the rules regarding urban agriculture.

    Good luck!

  46. Look at how much love and social awareness you have stirred up. Novella, we are with you, be on Paypal, Kickstart, throwing money attached to small treats for your chickens and rabbits into your garden off of MLK. Just let us know! It’s not illegal to open up your property again for another garden party, is it? I would love to have the chance to trek over the Richmond/San Rafael bridge again and donate some funds for some of that goat’s milk chai, rabbit pot pies, anything else. You are not selling it, and you will surrounded by adoring admirers and their pocket books. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Until then, let us know, the money we can all spare wants to go to you.

  47. Rebecca McKinney

    We live in SC and are getting ready to investigate similar regulations here. We’ll donate, too – keep up the good fight!

  48. Yeah, who’s gonna get those 2,500 dollars???? I am willing to donate some money to your cause. I saw you in Austin, and we (as in the 7 of us) processed a turkey right before thanksgiving and you are the most awesome woman ever!!!

  49. Yep, please post up a link where we can donate for that permit fee.

    Hopefully next year after the laws change, no more permits will be necessary. Is there a time limit to get the permit? If you have a link and a PayPal I know I will cross-post it to help raise funds. This is a really important issue, and I’m really ruffled (to put it mildly) that GTF, the jewel of this neighborhood and supplier of fresh produce in an area where access to fresh, healthy food is limited, is in this precarious situation. I live in Oakland, I’m interested, I e-mailed the contact you posted, and yep, as soon as there’s a link to donate, I’m on it.

    Thanks– keep up all the good work.

  50. Novella, do you know about Slow Money? They are creating a new investment instrument which encourages investment in local food supply. Check out this link:

  51. Put a paypal tip jar on your site? I would be thrilled to chip in and keep you farming, as, I’m sure, would a great many others.

  52. If everyone reading this with an interest in the issue gave a buck (or more), we could pay her fine in no time. Little donations become big money pdq.

  53. Lately, I just don’t understand a lot of things, but Ghost Town Farm’s plight is totally out of the twilight zone. Makes one wonder who called the City’s attention to the farm. Illegal chard? What’s next, felony fennel? Puleaze, we have bigger worries on our plates (no pun intended).

    Go get ’em, Novella. Lot of folks have your back.

  54. Pingback: You Gotta Fight For Your Right To…Sell Produce? « In Her Field

  55. What you’re doing is wonderful! I just sent a donation, I hope it helps you reach your goal.

  56. Max Allstadt

    That “really cool guy” from the City happens to be Eric, the boss of the entire planning department. I talked to him last night before the Council Meeting. We spent 10 minutes or so going over his intentions for zoning reform around urban agriculture.

    I known Eric for about 3 years now, and have interacted with him on many issues. It was very clear from our conversation that this issue matters to him, that he’s thought it out in tremendous detail, and that he seems to be doing everything feasible to support urban farmers as much as he can given the constraints of the law.

    I expect good things to come of this. But please, stay in touch with the city, and help drum up support for reasonable and comprehensive reforms. You have an audience, you have a pulpit, you presumably have one hell of a mailing list if you want to have it, and the press will talk to you in detail when this issue comes before the City again. I urge you to use every one of your assets to help see this through.

  57. Pingback: Boxed In | mamalooma

  58. Pingback: Urban Homesteader Challenges City on Sale of Edibles

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