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.

87 responses to “Another Bomb

  1. MotherLodeBeth

    Hate to say this but with state/budgets being stressed tight I am reading more and more about how cities/towns are looking at laws never enforced to see which ones they could easily enforce via fees/fines. Even in remote areas!

    Like people in the Sierras who have had chickens (no roosters) for decades because feed stores and town clerks said its ‘no problem’ all of a sudden being told the LAW doesnt allow it.

    Now more and more people are getting together and threatening recall of politicans who allow this to happen, rather than change the law to allow it!

  2. I don’t know what to say, except that I’m thinking of you, and have been since you first posted about the current debacle.

  3. I just started reading your blog a week or two ago. This upsets me, too. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

    – Stu, San Francisco

  4. This sucks so much. I hope you can hold on until the laws change and they get off your back. Who knew that becoming a property owner could suddenly make you so visible and interesting? A lot of it probably is an easy way for the city to try to collect money when they don’t have any – Philadelphia, where I live, is ticketing madly for trash being put out early and high weeds (in mostly concrete front yards). I received one for “uncontrolled vegetation” which was a climbing rose on an iron trellis. $50 or a half day off from work to explain myself, with photos.

    Beaurocracy sucks sometimes. I’m so sorry you’re on the wrong end of it right now.

  5. The mob that would stand in the way of anyone trying to evict you or your animals would be large Novella.
    Take a breath, one foot in front of the other, have a spoonful of honey, and fight this tooth and nail.
    If there is a phone # or email you can ask us to call/write on your behalf, name it!

  6. I am so sorry. I can’t even imagine. I wish I could send you more than the little bit that I just did. Soldier on, for all of us who want to follow in your footsteps.

  7. Hi Novella,

    First, I want to thank you for writing this blog and running your farm. What you do is very inspirational and informative, please keep up the good work.

    If I were in your situation, I would be looking for a good attorney asap, to help figure out your situation and options, and how best to proceed to make sure the legal situation does not get any worse. It may be worth considering finding a temporary place to keep your animals until you get your CUP in place. Do what you can to eliminate their grievances while doing what needs to be done to ensure you can continue to run the farm in the longer term, and working proactively to change the zoning laws.

    Have you considered setting up a project on Kickstarter or a PayPal account to fund your legal defense, and CUP application fees? I would be happy to make a contribution, and I’m sure you would find a lot of support from other urban farmers / homesteaders.

    You have already done great work producing quality food for yourself and your community, inspired and taught numerous people that they can grow and process their own food through your farm, and your writing / workshops, and now you are being forced into a situation where you can help work to define a more sensible and just policy for how urban farming is regulated. Hang in there!

    I’m in Santa Cruz, and would be happy to come help out around the farm if you need any assistance, just let me know.

    P.S. Keep away from the kerosene and matches, you have a lot more to offer in your current state!

  8. Just FYI, if you go the attorney route you can try two possibilities that would cost you nothing.

    First, ask for pro bono help from the nearest law school. They usually have all kinds of 3rd year (so pretty knowledgeable) students who work within a local community to help people with these types of issues (who can’t afford legal fees). They are always supervised by professors so it is a way to get some quality legal advice.

    Second, find a law firm nearby (the more high powered the better) to pursue this for you pro bono. When my OH was at a HUGE NY law firm, they did some great pro bono work. In fact, that was the only work he enjoyed at the firm and eventually left to do other legal work.

    Good luck and seriously pursue pro bono (FREE) legal help.

    T in DC

  9. Oh no, this is terrible — none of this makes sense! I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this, when you only been trying to do something good.

    Great advice from Jeff and Tory. Maybe you might even find someone who’d be willing to donate their legal expertise. I wish you the best of luck and I’m sending positive vibes your way!

    P.S. Thank you so much for coming down to SLO — we loved having you visist our sleepy, little hamlet! 🙂

  10. dear city of oakland,
    don’t you have better things to do with your time?


  11. and i agree with Hallin’ A**… is there a place where we can voice complaint? email address? phone number?

  12. Get an attorney. This is major bullshit, and you’ve got to rally your defenses now.

  13. karen Burnes

    It’s so ridiculous that Oakland would classify these houses as “historical” when most of them are completely falling apart, or at the very least ramshackle. The city puts no money into maintaining these neighborhoods, while simultaneously blocking people who try to do so.

  14. Novella – I fought a battle w the City of Oakland that involved abatement notices (VERY different situation, but I’m pretty sure the same city office.) email me – I can give you some general advice about how to deal with them. I also have a *great* tenant rights lawyer who does free consultations and works on contingency. Sigh, I am so sorry this is happening to you.

  15. What an incredible bummer (and stronger words)- you are right about the screwed up food system, as was emphasized at the EcoFram conference in January. At least it made me convinced that we have to keep the pressure on at the grassroots level. And I just came from a meeting on edible landscaping in suburbia where a few years ago (before local laws changed) a homeowner was cited in Palo Alto becuse there were complaints about her growing veggies in the front yard- oh the horror!!
    I realize it’s no fun being in the forefront of the movement- but know that you have supporters that will help as much as we can; your cause is our cause!
    Keep on keeping us informed…

  16. I don’t have anything new to say, only echoing what has already been said here. You have the support of so many, whatever you decide to do or whatever happens, know that you are loved and have inspired so many.

    If there is something we can do to support you and fight for you, please let us know. After all, this fight is really all of ours.

  17. I know it SUCKS! I can only imagine how outrageously nerve-wrackingly stressful it is. I suspect that there are leagues of folks who will show up on your behalf for either letter writing campaigns or show up at the city permit office or something in support of local food security. What you are doing is pioneer – it’s heroic and it’s got to be scary that it finally attracted the attention of the Power Structure. Too bad you can’t bribe them with goat cheese. or dose them with compassion and sympathy in some chicken eggs.
    I’ll be watching what happens from a distance and doing what little I can to help. It’s about time these fucked up zoning regs gets changed. Art Ludwig (the gray water guy who started Oasis soap) does a talk called “Legalizing sustainability” that speaks to this kind of thing. It’s a huge issue. Also RE-code in Portland has done groundbreaking work getting city planners (it is Portland though) to rethink their codes.
    I will be crossing fingers, casting spells, donating to your kickstarter and praying that not only does it go well for you, but that your case sets a precedent for “legalizing sustainability” all over the country.

  18. “I realize it’s no fun being in the forefront of the movement- but know that you have supporters that will help as much as we can; your cause is our cause!”

    I couldn’t have said it any better, thank you Urban Artichoke. And thank-you Novella for fighting the good fight….unfortunately, it’s one I fear we are all about to be fighting in our own towns. Things are indeed getting very scary.

  19. There is some good advice here. I have been following your story on Facebook for a while. I am sorry that the city of Oakland is putting you through all of this. All the best to you. The work you are doing is vital. I’m glad to see you’ve got a place we can donate through Paypal. And please know there are so many of us out here who will support you in whatever ways we can.

  20. How does this affect the neighbors in the R-36 zone? Aren’t you in a low income area of Oakland with few..if any, stores that sell fresh affordable produce? So you and your neighbors can’t buy fresh food within a reasonable distance from home. Now a law is being enforced suggesting you all can’t grow fresh food at home. Why does Oakland want their low income and renting communities to eat processed commodity junk called “food.” Poor quality processed commodity foods are known to cause diet related disease, negatively impact the development of children and shorten a person’s lifespan. Honestly, going after you for not paying taxes on earned income is one thing…but this. To say you cannot grow your own food (plant or animal) where you live and threaten to evict you for doing so sounds like a Medieval feudal law. What century is this?

  21. I went through something similar to this. We moved to a small town (from chicken freindly Austin, TX) to be closer to family, and thought for sure being a small town in the middle of nowhere having chickens, ect would be no big deal.. We asked the city about keeping chickens, and they said they didn’t care as long as no one complained, and as long as they were well taken care of….Our yard was fenced, our chickens were secure and well loved pets to our kids….. Surprise, surprise a year later the poe-poe knocked on our door saying how we were violating code (although there were no complaints) and if we didn’t get rid of our chickens in 2 weeks they were going to bring out the humane society cat collector truck and charge us a $200 per chicken fine (times 12) We had no choice to get rid of them since that was 2 months pay for us and we were living paycheck to paycheck we could not risk it. The chickens went to live free range on a farm in the country. I was fuming at the time… How the hell can a town where you can smell the fuckin egg factories discussing unnatural stench when the wind blew west tell me I cant have chickens because it’s a ‘neighborhood’…. (more like ghosttown) It was at that moment we decided living in a chicken friendly town was a must, and hit the road and never looked back. We are currently building our chicken coop for our spring chickens in beautiful chicken friendly Winona, MN on the Mississippi. Looking back it all sucked, but I am glad it all happened, cause I wouldn’t be here 🙂

  22. “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.”

    This is very weird they are doing this to you. I’m very inspired by what you do. I can barely mow my lawn and you have this beautiful garden/farm that is a little Garden of Eden in a blighted urban area. Yet the City of Oakland would leave me alone if I lived in your house and barely mowed the lawn and they are coming after you for making things better.

    These “authorities having jurisdiction” (AHJs) are engaging in resistance against the new wave of change that your farm represents.

  23. April 12th there’s a city council meeting. LETS RALLY!
    March down to City Hall with as many people as you can and make a statement during the public forum portion of the meeting. We can all make statements. I’d be happy to join you there and I’m sure many others would be too!

  24. It saddens me that this is going forward, apparently for no good reason, and I’m so sorry that you’re feeling this loss of control. I think you’re right about the issues around control and letting people have some (God forbid), but I suppose that doesn’t help when you’re in the middle of it. I was mostly going to suggest what’s already been said around looking for a pro bono lawyer – this has the potential to be something big that could attract attention, and it’s entirely possible that someone would be willing to help you fight this fight because it’s for a good cause.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been incredibly inspired by what you’ve done and am trying to change around my little urban apartment and yard as a result. I hope you can keep on working against this situation, hard as it is – you have a lot of people behind you, near and far, and lots of people who will do what we can to help. It sucks, though, and I’m so sorry you’re still having to deal with it.

  25. Sweetie… The “Whine” in that state is the main reason why I will NEVER live there – EVER AGAIN. And I was born in Oakland. The government in that entire state has made it impossible to live life – period. I won’t even come back there for a visit. That state doesn’t deserve a damn dime of my money. And it doesn’t deserve somebody like you paying taxes to be harrassed, either. Anytime you get froggy – East Tennessee will gladly let you live life as you’re trying to do right now. And let me tell you – the people out here may be a bit simple. But they’re honest and have quite a bit of common sense!! And they appreciate a hard-working person just trying to do the right thing!

  26. Get the press involved and make the city look like the chump it is. After cabbagegate here our county has backed off from harassing food producers because of all the negative publicity.
    Keep on Growing
    The Funny Farm

  27. OK this situation was ridiculous before, but this is beyond absurd. Isn’t it about time some pro bono locavore lawyer picked up your case????

  28. This just makes my heart hurt. Novella, fight the good fight and we are all behind you.

  29. I hope people are DONATING. I think that will help the most right now.

  30. Another idea is to contact your City Councilperson and/or State Rep and ask if they can help you out and tell you what is going on. I’m in Kansas City, but we’ve contacted our City Council representative in the past to get city action on dangerous street situations, for example. If you think you City Council person might be sympathetic to local agriculture, food security, anything related to your work, give it a try.

  31. I don’t know how to do it but someone needs to start a petition on Credo.

  32. Ellen Carrico

    All of your activities are taking place on the former vacant lot, no? I don’t think you’re doing anything in your duplex that you must abate, right?
    I think this is overkill on the City of Oakland’s part, because, you know, nothing better to do and they have to use or loose the budget for handling chicken shit stuff. I think they don’t realize your felonious behavior isn’t taking place in your home, only in your separately owned lot. I’ve donated, hope it helps!

  33. Lawyers get a bad rap until people need them. You need one. Now. Finding an attorney needs to be your biggest priority. Good luck, we’re rooting for you.

  34. How much of a bribe does the city want for you to stay this time? First they came for your lot, now your home. These are the same people who arrest and prosecute kidnapped sex slaves while letting the pimps and kidnappers walk free on International Blvd. This city attacks victims because they are weak. They are trying to scare you into conforming. You are not weak, and no one who lives here with the nightly gunshots, theft, assaults, and drug crime gives two shits about some asshole with a camera and a clip board. If they try to evict you, tell us and we will be there. We will rally with you. We will seed bomb city hall with you. We will do whatever it takes. Get a private group going and lets figure out how to turn this government’s over-reach into a pro urban-Ag movement. We are your support.

  35. Dan and William, if you are going to march, protest, or congregate, get a license or permit to do so. I would cry, too, if someone wanted my three hens to go. Maybe we should all grow vegetables indoors like pot growers.

  36. Lynne Sprague

    I just found out about your little farm on FB. You are doing so much good for the community. The city of Oakland should be applauding you instead of harassing you. You are a stones throw from the guys in Berkeley who have the same type of little farm you have. How unfair. I guess the deal breaker for you is that you are selling some of your excess produce. Once that line is crossed they can say that you are no longer doing it for personal use only. What a world we live in. All the gardeners and small urban farmers should unit and march on city hall. We are all pulling for you…

  37. Novella,
    Firstly, know that as a former Code Enforcement Officer I can tell you that things in government happen in the equivalent of dog years. If you think it should take a day, it will take seven. You get the idea. You have time to breathe here. And cry, if it helps. Sometimes it does.

    Secondly, know that the people sending notices and taking photos don’t know you. They don’t know that you are a deviant and a misanthrop. They also don’t know how fucking awesome you are or how much of an impact you have on the lives of countless people around you (virtually, too!) You have to tell them. You have to hold their hands and show them. They will work with you if you learn to speak thier language and help them understand yours.

    Look at this as not a fight; fighting takes so much from both sides. Look at it as a conversation between you and a foreign national, say your sister’s in-laws. You just have to find the right words. You will. You are so very good with words and getting your point across in a warm and cognisant fashion.

    What you are doing is so fundamentally different from what is written in the code. You are unique and that is hard to regulate. They aren’t out to get “you.” They are trying to codify and categorize an ever changing world. You just happen to be the most uniquely difficult puzzle to codify.
    I do think that you should talk to an attorney. Maybe some great legal mind at Berkley? Law departments often offer up the third years to the public pro bono for real-time expierence.

    I’d like to be of any help that I can. You aren’t alone.

    Warmest regards,
    Jessica in Tifton, GA

  38. Hi there,
    Just found your blog randomly link hopping. I’m a third year law student at UC Davis. I passed the link on to some of my environmental law friends. I second (or third) the folks who are telling you to seek pro bono help. This sounds like like something law students would be all over. They also have the time and energy to devote to these issues that paid attorneys don’t. AND free! Best of luck.

  39. If “crop and animal raising” is conditionally permitted, you’ll most likely be allowed to use your property for that use, but it just means that you have to fill out the paperwork and apply with the zoning department and get the permit for the conditional use. This notice to abate isn’t saying anything you don’t already know, it’s just using different language. Don’t get too excited, just talk to the folks in the zoning department and go through the process. And even if they don’t approve your application the first time, I’m sure you’ll have the right to appeal. There will most likely be a small fee for the application, but there shouldn’t be a need to hire a lawyer. I used to work in a small government office, and I agree that the codes and processes can often be cumbersome and that the folks who enforce them are not always the friendliest or easiest to deal with, but I just wanted to let you know that your situation isn’t dire yet. Just take it one step at a time.

  40. Okay, so I don’t know the city code in Oakland, but I used to work for the Zoning Board of Appeals in a small town in Massachusetts. We got a lot of applications for special permits, which I assume is similar to a conditional use permit. One thing to keep in mind is that the code should say what the requirements are for the conditional use permit, and if you meet the requirements, they have to give it to you, or they have to have a damn good reason not to. The city code should be online, and they’re usually fairly easy to read. I would not rely on what the city is telling you the code says. I would go and read it for yourself.

    Also, if I were you, I would find out what it takes to *change* the city code. This happened fairly often in the town I used to live in. I imagine small town New England is a bit different than California (many New England towns still have town meeting) but it shouldn’t be *that* difficult. Or, let me put it this way, local government is often the place where we have the best chance to affect change, and you certainly have a cause that a lot of people would get behind.

    Good luck!

  41. Novella, I second what Jessica said. I know first-hand how scary it is to be on the receiving end of notices like what you’ve described. However, since spending the last several months working with closely with city staff/officials in Denver to write a new Food Producing Animals ordinance (chickens, ducks, goats) I have learned that things are not often as black-and-white as they initially seem.

    Getting a lawyer (or a 3rd year law student) who can engage the zoning folk in their language would definitely be helpful. But/also, follow Jessica’s suggestion and approach them as though they were someone from another culture — but not necessarily an enemy. If you can, try to speak with supervisors and managers. The front-line folk (like the guy who came around and took pictures of your place) often don’t have a firm grasp on the subtleties of the rules or what changes are being worked on by the higher-ups. The front-line folks are also, as a rule, hardasses who won’t compromise. Not always the case with the supervisors.

    In addition, some political pressure on Zoning can go a long way. Get the name, email address, and phone number of your City Councilperson. Have everyone you know call them and plead your case. If you can get an advocate in City Council, you may find more gray areas in the zoning code than you thought.

  42. NW Homesteader

    That is absolutely ridiculous! Forget the crime, murder and drug dealing oakland is familiar with and attack the people trying to make like a little better without the forceful hand of uncle sam. I just saw your video a few days ago, I think what you are doing is great and more should be doing it!

  43. Hello from Fukushima, Japan. 🙂 I read about your City Hall’s curious decision against your farm-garden in the Natural News web site and have just visited here. Being a Japanese farmer, I don’t really know well the ridiculous and arbitrary fine system of your City Hall but I am sure you will get the pro bono style legal help from your supporters.
    I visit American blogs and news about such urban farmers sometimes so that I could learn from them. I am actually curious why a Japanese farmer like me is poorer than an American urban farmer like yourself. 🙂 I don’t even own a goat so I don’t have a chance to taste goat cheese like you do. I guess maybe I could keep a few ducks in my own vegetable garden in front of my poor countryside farmhouse someday in the future (the front is better because I can watch).

    What disturbs me a bit is how it is possible for a well known city in a free market country like the US to arbitrarily send its own official to someone’s property (on anonymous “complaint”?) and send out some fine tickets citing a forgotten “legal” regulation. Unlike in the US, farmers’ market is not common in Japan so we don’t have any access to any free market in Japan. It means, therefore, most urban Japanese people don’t have a free farmers’ market to buy our produces freely. As everyone can see, it is actually a very good thing for the Oakland city hall to have free urban farmers and let them sell their produces freely like you did. It is not only your advantage. It is also the city hall’s advantage. It would be very stupid for the city’s Mayor not to understand it is the most profitable choice for himself to have the free urban farms like yours.
    Still I am convinced that an arbitrary ruling by a city hall’s own officials and the citizen’s grievance by that ruling should be addressed reasonably by the elected mayor of the city without delay. I hope the Oakland Mayor will answer the questions raised publicly by you and your supporters (not to mention the well known SF Chronicles newspaper) immediately, too.
    By the way, I am not a “survivor” of Fukushima at all because I live far enough from the famous Fukushima reactors (reasonably far, at the moment, at least) but we also hear the radiation hazard is present here and there everyday as the famous broken Japanese reactors still keep on emitting radiation to the outside world, including the US and other foreign countries. Fukushima prefecture was nowhere even for the Japanese people before the recent nuclear disaster broke out. Now it is a world famous place like Chernobyl so I hope we will have many tourists from around the world once the disaster is settled. 🙂
    Many people in Japan question what our government officials tell the media here and their constant explanation that “it is safe in your town” and so on. Therefore, as a well known news report told the world, a Japanese vegetable farmer in Fukushima prefecture killed himself after he learned of a possible radioactive contamination of his area. He thought his vegetables were possibly contaminated but I don’t know if his produces were actually contaminated. He thought his vegetables would not be accepted by his buyers any more. But I am doing OK. 😉

    As long as your vegetables and other produces are safe from any contamination, I see no problem for anyone else who live near your urban farm at all. I would like to tell the city hall officials concerned the American urban farms are not a nuisance therefore it is very ridiculous for them to slap their own tax payers with extra fines or tickets citing an arbitrary regulation of this or that. They should do something to protect the beautiful things like these farms inside their own urban area, instead of destroying the farms by arbitrary fines. If they destroy beautiful things like these farms, they will face similar ends as the Japanese officials are facing now in Fukushima.
    I would like the City’s Mayor to address such an arbitrary fine problem against Novella Carpenter without delay and voluntarily retract the very curious decision by his own staff before his city hall causes more troubles by its arbitrariness. I am sure preserving the city’s environment also means protecting these urban farms from destruction.

  44. I can’t believe this BS is coming out of the supposedly progressive Bay area! Get your story out to the local media–I’m sure you’d have a lot of support from the community, and from well-known people, especially from the likes of Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, etc. Shouldn’t the fact that you published a (really awesome, entertaining, and though-provoking!) book on your experience in said lot count for anything?! Damn! If I lived in Oakland I’d be down at City Hall with some fresh eggs and produce and a sign that reads “Eating is not a crime!” Keep us posted and let us know how we can help–we got your back!

  45. Novella, if you look under the municipal code sections for animals, it does say you’re not supposed to keep goats/chickens/etc. unless you meet certain guidelines (Poke through here under “keeping certain animals…” and “keeping of fowl”). The fact that it’s also under the “conditional use” section in the planning code is interesting, since it suggests that with the right permits, you should be able to keep doing what you’re doing. I suggest you call (or visit) the planning department and ask what steps you need to take in order to obtain a conditional use permit for the property where you’re keeping your farm. Hopefully they can walk you through it without too much grief. Like the code-enforcement guy said, these things really do take aeons to sort out. You have time to work through this.

  46. I would really like to join you in a protest or some kind of political or community action if that is something being considered. I’m working on a piece for a blog about your story, and as a fellow urban farmer in Richmond, CA, my heart goes out to you. These fines and regulations are adding to the dehumanizing urban wasteland which you’re trying to overturn and revitalize, and as so many responders have pointed out, it’s going to have extremely negative repercussions both in the immediate and in the long-term health of Oakland and its people. I really appreciate reading everyone’s comments and would love to collaborate in some kind of community action. Has City Slickers and People’s Grocery gotten involved yet? What about some of the local farms? Though I hear your feelings of powerlessness, there is a lot of strength in the local food community that can be rallied. Let us know what kind of help you need and we’ll be here for you as best we can.

  47. I just saw you and your plight on my local kgo7 news. My heart goes out to you. I would love to have a farm like yours. I find it increasing disturbing all the push back there seems to be towards urban farming and local NATURAL animal husbandry. I honestly believe that I am not capable of preparing (slaughtering) my own meat myself, but I do like the idea of knowing where the food i eat comes from and how it was cared for/grown. It’s insane that something that was once so common and a necessity for a family to survive are seen with so much suspicion and doubt. It seems to me, that for some people, if veggies and game are not USDA approved they’ll need to be, or at least subjected to some other bureaucratic red tape bull shit! From what I saw on the news cast your neighbors think the farm brings a sense of community. The city of Oakland should leave you the hell alone, be grateful of you for cleaning that lot up and spend their time and efforts on REAL problems like murder and violence! Hope it all works out for you!

  48. City governments are often filled with small-minded people. And once they’ve zeroed in that you’re violating some code (even though you can probably see many violations throughout Oakland if you drive around and look), you’re screwed. I once had a city “code enforcer” knock on my door and threaten a “Stop Work” notice because he saw a box on my driveway labeled “ventilation hood.” Give me a break. I let him in and talked my way out of it, but it left some nasty residual feelings.

    Hopefully, the laws will change and this will blow over.

  49. Hi Novella-
    I have very similar rules and regs here in Beaverton, Michigan… I have the rabbits because they somehow were not listed as “barnyard animals”… I live in a “rural community” and was shocked to learn of these rules within the city limits…
    I was listening to Alex Jones at : and learned that the Senate and Congress passed a bill last year that makes vegetable gardens illegal in this country! I also follow the information at Natural News too… same information.
    I will be praying for your progress, and if they don’t budge for a peaceful relocation of your entire farm to a better site where you can enjoy the way of life so many of us crave today!
    During the first great depression, 9/10th of people lived on farms, and over 30,000 people died from starvation related diseases …. today 9/10th of the population lives in cities… and we are about to see food priced out of most peoples reach with the devaluation of the American Dollar by that off shore banking cartel called the world’s Fed Reserve…
    My point is that we need more city, and local governments to wake up and push urban farming to save the lives of millions in the upcoming months to years with what is going on!
    It is just a thought but Alex Jones may want to interview you for his daily radio/tv show… and he has about 3 million listeners– to get the word out there…
    An old saying is that “make progress out of chaos”… the globalists do it all the time (of course they create the chaos)…
    What I am trying to say, and I know I don’t have the right way with words… is not to give up… believe that good will come out of this… you may be introduced to your new landlord through this, or better a land contract within a budget you can afford….
    You are so in our thoughts and yes prayers (metaphysically if two or more agree upon a topic, and address a Higher Power concerning it…. it will be)…
    You are not alone in your struggle, keep moving forward, when you feel helpless, know that you are NOT alone, and keep doing the next right thing to make your situation move forward. WE are with you, mentally, spiritually, and if need be as much financially as we can donate toward your cause!
    Thank you for sharing so much with us….
    Your friend in chilly Michigan,

  50. I am a vegan and I support your urban farm. I support you being connected to the animals you eat instead of buying them in tidy plastic wrapped packages at Safeway. I do wish you hadn’t gone down the road of assuming it was “probably an animal rights person.” That comment, especially since, let’s be real, you have no proof of that, has set back the potential of the humane farmer types and vegetarian “extremists” (we’re not allowed to be as passionate as YOU?) getting along. This makes me very sad, as I associate with many of the culinary elite who plan to help bail your ass out of this mess you got yourself in. Will they now consider me to be in that anti-urban-farm camp, just because I wouldn’t eat a bunny pie any sooner than I would eat my own dog? Who knows. I just regret that your upset about your predicament has you looking for someone to blame, and in doing so, is going to make your legitimate urban farming road even harder.

  51. Paul Richards

    Resistance to tyranny requires good nerves and patience. Especially in our so called democracy. I learned this resisting the draft during war in Vietnam almost 50 years ago. Do not budge from your place and keep doing your farming. Use every appeal they have, especially appealing to the city Council which can overrule the planning board. Study their procedures and make all your moves after the full waiting period has passed. Ignore them every chance you get. Be confident that you will prevail and you will. Urban farming is our future and you are making a great contribution.

  52. This is crazy! But it’s people like you-intelligent, hardworking and passionate who make change in this world by speaking out and educating. Keep fighting. We should be able to grow food and let the wind dry our clothes and keep chickens. Where I live people who have a small egg business are being forced to shut down due to crazy regulations. People need to take a stand and stop this lunacy.

  53. Some people assert that in the Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council case the US Supreme Court basically said that a regulatory agency has no right to deprive you of the lawful use of your land without compensation. I’ve heard some say that this ruling invalidates most zoning laws. But I’m not a lawyer so this is just a heads up for you… maybe something you can check into and get those bureaucrats off your back.

  54. Happened to me, all my chickens, ducks, geese and 2 goats are gone because the town that is 2 miles from my house changed the zoning for the county. It really sucks! I’m too poor to fight the fines so everything had to go. Next on my list is to get even with the county and apply for food stamps. I’m sure I qualify. They took my protein food production away, now the jerks can pay me. At this point they at least haven’t done any zoning about what I can plant and I can still grow a garden. I expect that will be regulated next. Idiots on the town board must think there is going to be a housing boom and they are going to get rich selling housing lots.

  55. Are you able to schedule a hearing with the council? Who is your council person – Nadel? I mean come on – this is ridiculous. An area that’s only food source is “fire cheetos” can’t have fresh chard? Farm animals are bad – but guns and teen deaths are fine? I just am disgusted. If you are able to schedule a hearing – I think you will find massive support that would come and argue all of the obvious points. So many people support you and what you are doing – give the word and we are there!

  56. Glory Styles

    Dear Novella,
    I’m an Oaklander, too, and I love this city. We need you and the positive change you are bringing. We’ll help you fight. It’s good work. We’ll take it a day at at a time.
    I’m going to start haunting city hall on your behalf daily. Please find a way to mobilize all this support and love you’re getting!
    ~A fellow chicken-raising neighbor

  57. Andria Perkins

    Fighting for the same rights in Dayton, OH.

  58. Pan's Daughter

    Don’t let them push you to the back of the bus. You need a sympathetic lawyer and an episode on 60 Minutes.

  59. I think you should get a lawyer as well, and fight the good fight. I know you’re kidding about the matches and kerosene- at least you’re keeping your sense of humor.

    The other thing that might help is some well-placed publicity. If you could find a mole in the city government who can tell you the manager/official in charge of your persecution, maybe it would be helpful to organize a scene at his or her office, replete with reporters with cameras and microphones.

  60. Phone Barbara Finnan and Nicki Henderson. They (at least City Slickers) are helping people to put veggie gardens/chickens/bees in their backyards – 120+ to date – so this directly effects them as well and you should be able to pool resources/info/influence.

    Post names/address of people your readers should write to and I’ll bet you can get a flurry of letters.

    I too am fond of Oakland, but I roll my eyes at them frequently. I imagine this is more Bunny People. Whom I know are caring and well meaning, but who don’t recognize that breeds of farm animals exist to be farm animals and, as the demand wanes for many of these breeds, they have become highly endangered.


  61. This is in response to TonyaLee’s assertion that it is illegal to have a home garden.

    The bill introduced on June 8, 2009 that originally created all the furor was H.R.2749 , which initially failed in the House, July 29, 2009, and then passed July 30, 2009.

    “This bill never became law. This bill was proposed in a previous session of Congress. Sessions of Congress last two years, and at the end of each session all proposed bills and resolutions that haven’t passed are cleared from the books. Members often reintroduce bills that did not come up for debate under a new number in the next session. “

    The bill is next seen in the Senate on November 30, 2010. S.510 as amended, the Open Congress Summary reads: The bill would increase the FDA’s regulatory authority over the food production system in order to prevent contamination and food-borne illness outbreaks. It would give the FDA mandatory recall authority, require food producers to have qualifying plans in place for identifying and addressing safety risks, require importers to verify the safety of all imported foods, and more. Small farms and food facilities that do less than $500,000 in sales annually and sell most of their food locally would be exempt from most of the new regulations in the bill.

    It did not pass the Senate but was included in H.R.2751 which did pass in late December, 2010 , it was then sent to the President and signed on January 4, 2011, though there may not be funding in place to oversee the program.

    The bill as passed can be read in entirety at

    This is as I understood the process, if anyone else sees it differently, please respond.

  62. Novella,
    There are some interesting and vaulable comments to this entry. Get a lawyer. Do pay for the licesnes you need. There is a possibility that the abatement may “go away” once the other issues are settled. Present your self as desiring to be cooperative. Do what VIctoria says and read the code for yourself. We recently had a case where the State presented the ocde to the judge in one light, but in fact, the State had not followed its own code.
    Please contact Dr. Steven Corey Dr. Corey is the head of the Urban Studies Department at Worcester State University in Worcester, MA. WSU has a very robust Urban Studies program and part of the concern of the program is food insecurity in urban settings. If the department has the funding to conduct a study of your situation, it will help you and it will show other urban communities how urban farming should be handled and showcase laws, etc that need to be changed.

  63. Again, this is absolutely insane. It is easier to sell crack in Oakland than to sell chard and rabbit pies. I can not believe they want to make an example of you for doing something good for people, good for the earth, and good for the image of the stupid city of Oakand. Novella, you rock! Maybe we could do some kind of action where everyone with any kind of vegetable garden sets up a stand for one day??

  64. 47ranchdressing

    And yet….

    I guess one’s own back yard is considered to be too local? Oakland, you can’t play both sides of the fence. Please do your best not to look so silly, before it really does get to 60 Minutes. Madame Mayor, please stop the madness!

  65. Elizabeth S.

    This is what happens when Liberals want to regulate every part of you life because they think they know better than you.

    You raise the animals and the plants, I think you’re capable enough to do the right thing, but it seems someone in government wants to let you know that independence is not permitted and bureaucratic tyranny is preferable to freedom.

    Stay strong. Maybe a good lawyer will come up and offer some pro bono work.

    You may want to see if any lawyer firms might be up for some pro bono work. Check the East Bay COmmunity Law Center. They might be able to help you and give you some legal direction in which to follow.

  66. “It is easier to sell crack in Oakland than to sell chard and rabbit pies.”

    Allison really hit the nail on the head in with her post, which is quoted above.

    I also sent you a $25 donation. I want you to prevail and will send you more when I can.

  67. Everything is connected. The capitalist system is broken and we’re supposed to be meek and humble serfs, happy to slave away our lives on the assembly line making less than it costs to live while Adam Smith’s angry fist smashes our lives. Food not Lawns is a political act of dissent and the system doesn’t tolerate dissent. Today it’s fines to enslave you and make you crazy, tomorrow it’s an unmarked grave in an empty field. The system is broken and now it’s committed to breaking us!

  68. Novella, I was cruising through a couple of my better recent blogposts, preparing for my usual early week entry, when I read the opening lines from my post “The K-T Boundary Revisisted,” and thought about your situation:

    “I like to envision people like us as the tiny proto-mammals scurrying around the feet of the bohemoth dinosaurs during the final days before the end of the Cretaceous and the beginning of the Tertiary period of geologic history, the killer asteroid already visible during daylight hours. Too small to draw any notice, too small to be worth the calories spent catching us, flexible, adaptive, highly mobile.”

    You just got too big. You are worth the caloric expenditure now. The City of Oakland’s attention could really be seen as a compliment! Now don’t you feel better??

    By the way, you completely rock too.

  69. man, so sorry to hear this. your next post better be better … i mean, what else can they throw at you? fred’s comments above kinda make sense all of a sudden. scary stuff you’re going through. you’re clearly doing your due diligence, just keep on keeping on. don’t give up! i’ll donate again next month.

  70. Um, Fred? Adam Smith was opposed to this level of government regulation and control. A truly free market would not require permits and paperwork out the kazoo to simply grow food and sell it in its raw state.

    It looks to me like we need a grassroots movement across the nation, people running for local office and not just ‘rewriting’ regulations but repealing them, making it possible for people to grow and sell local food without fear of government interference.

  71. “It is easier to sell crack in Oakland than to sell chard and rabbit pies.”

    This is just like my city! My neighbors are known druggies and theives, the neighbor behind me has a fence over 2 feet taller then code but the city picked on me for a rabbit hutch and a recently a leaf compost that wasn’t covered…

  72. Good Morning Novella,
    I hope you mind is spinning less today! I just re-read all the information your friends are offering you to improve your situation– some really good advice.
    Legal aide if you cannot afford an attorney, but I know that the linc I gave in an earlier post ( to the Alex Jones Show, will give you all the help you need including a real means to get your plight, and that of all us urban farmers…
    I’m not posting the information about Bill S 510 that passed last year to make everyone afraid, but to inform of where these things are coming from… way beyond Oakland, Beaverton, or any other little town… or city, or township…
    Here is what I found out about the “crack down” we are all experiencing–

    –Senate Bill S 510 Food Safety Modernization Act outlawed gardening and saving seeds.
    1. Senate Bill 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, has been called “the most dangerous bill in the history of the United States of America.” It granted the U.S. government new authority over the public’s right to grow, trade and transport any foods. This gave Big brother the power to regulate the tomato plants in your backyard. It granted them the power to arrest and imprison people selling cucumbers at farmer’s markets. It criminalized the transporting of organic produce if you don’t comply with the authoritarian rules of the federal government.

    2. “It’s the most offensive authority against the cultivation, trade and consumption of food and agricultural products of one’s choice. It’s unconstitutional and contrary to natural law or, if you like, the will of God.” – Dr. Shiv Chopra, Canada Health whistleblower (

    3. This tyrannical law puts all food production (yes, even food produced in your own garden) under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security. Yep — the very same people running the TSA and its naked body scanner / passenger groping programs.

    4. This law also gave the U.S. government the power to arrest any backyard food producer as a felon (a “smuggler”) for merely growing lettuce and selling it at a local farmer’s market.

    5. It also sold out U.S. sovereignty over our own food supply by ceding to the authority of both the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Codex Alimentarius.

    6. It criminalized seed saving (, turning backyard gardeners who save heirloom seeds into common criminals. This is obviously designed to give corporations like Monsanto a monopoly over seeds. (heirloom seeds once held greater value in this country than gold and silver, “they” are making sure it doesn’t happen again! )

    7. It created an unreasonable paperwork burden that puts small food producers out of business, resulting in more power over the food supply shifting to large multinational corporations.

    –The above is nearly quoted from Mike Adams, Health Ranger of Natural News. For the top ten lies about this bill see there:

    One of the Alex Jones phone numbers is 877-789-2539, I texted him on Twitter to mention you are published, and have a following…and do interviews…

    I hope people local like Gloria will help you mobilize those forces she mentioned, and free you up to contact people like Alex Jones and Mike Adams (Health Ranger,

    I believe that the A Jones people can get you hooked up with people who will help, like the lawyers and studies mentioned above (who you need to at least check out).

    You are in my heart and prayers, if I find out anything else that could be helpful I will pass on that info. I really want to do anything I can, Oh, all you employed folks with good encouragement…. I live on SS, and still found a little in my monthly budget…. so help her with more than just words!

    Just a thought, when dealing with these bafoons remember to put them into a position of “helping you”… when you go in gang busters — they go on the defensive, get that clerk, or whoever you deal with to “want to help you” because you are just trying to do things right… giggle, it works… and they are the ones who can find the loop holes better than anyone else… “do onto others as you would have them do onto you”… like “Hi, I know you must be really busy, and have alot of nuts come through here…” they talk, “I really hate to bother you with this, but I don’t know how to handle this– are you familiar with what my next right move might be?” sort of thing will get them scurrying around trying to be your hero, show the appreciation… Remember you are being targeted, this is war, and “playing” the part that works to move your cause forward is much more rewarding….

    Good luck, G_d bless, and remember we are all pulling for you!

  73. Novella,
    You must realize you have strong community and are strong and should never allow yourself to feel “helpless”. You are a revolutionary! How does anyone think this great country got founded?

    We who grow food on a small scale are going to have to band together. We are going to have to make a ‘statement’ and be a cause with fortitude! We are going to have to be focused and on message on this and not be distracted by the oh so many distractions in our “profoundly sick society”. (J. Krishnamurti). We have a purpose and it is a good one. We are going to have to go after the power structure without letting our own egos becoming a new power structure in our own greed and vanity. We are going to have to be considerate as we can yet persistent in our cause.

    Do we want to be part of the ‘plan’ or not? (Credit to the movie “The Adjustment Bureau”.) I think not.

    What is to be done?

    How about the Rabbit Party? We have the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, why not the Rabbit Party? As comedian Lewis Black has said “Republicans and Democrats are like two piles of shit starring at each other.” We need to take the politicians, the corporations and government on.

    The Rabbit Party Party. What a demonstration!

    Greg Scott
    Newark (South Alameda County, CA)

  74. I have sent the following letter to Mayor Quan’s office.
    It is ironic that April, the month of environmental observances all over the world, and on the eve of Oakland’s Earth Expo, that Oakland has chosen to single out Novella Carpenter, not for honor, but for retribution.

    This modern day pioneer of the urban gardening movement has been an ambassador for the city, helping to place Oakland in the forefront of a national renaissance proving that nutritious locally produced food can be grown anywhere, even in the midst of urban struggle.

    Following the honored tradition of “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime”. Ms Carpenter chose to write about her experiences and to teach others to feed themselves.

    Her garden fed her, fed her family and neighbors, fed the hungry, and occasionally was offered at a pop-up produce stand for a donation.

    Many times I have paused at a untended table set at the end of a driveway with basket of tomatoes or oranges with nothing more then a token donation for payment. I’ve also followed homemade signs to jars of home-grown honey warm from sitting in the sun. These are products lovingly tended and I worry less about the possibility of contamination from these then produce piled in supermarket bins. Will these wonderful scenes of local goodness disappear under the threat of city sanction and fines?

    It is also ironic, in this year of the rabbit, that Oakland’s cause for rancor comes from a rabbit. I do not believe that Ms. Carpenter set out to deliberately flout city or state regulations by providing home-grown and processed meat for a fund-raiser. The approach taken by Oakland, to an infraction that could have been handled with a reiteration of proper procedure and warning, has done more to tarnish the reputation of Oakland than that of Ms. Carpenter.

    Mayor Quan, please consider taking another look at Ms. Carpenter’s case and realize that perhaps your representative was hasty in his assessment.

  75. I’m so sorry, Novella. I have to think that you might be able to get some of that power back on your side by using the media to your advantage. Soooo many people love your book and what you are trying to do. I think maybe a well-placed radio or newspaper article could help put some pressure on the city to stop acting like such a thuggish jerk… Have you tried reaching out to any of the places that covered your book? The media loves a good fight/controversey… Just a thought!

  76. FloodedByCEDA

    When you recieve a Notice to Abate from the city you’re in for big trouble and you have NO RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS. The link below is about someone who is farther along with a Notice To Abate.

  77. Pingback: Boxed In | mamalooma

  78. Thanks for hanging in there, Novella. All the difficulty is bringing people together, and that can only be good in the long run.

  79. Novella, I’m sorry this is happening to you. I hope it doesn’t come to this but if you need to start thinking about setting up on your lot. Because you own it I believe, Check out Tumbleweed Tiny houses. If they are on wheels it’s not technically a house and you can keep it on your property and live in it. Worst case scenario. Please make sure to check with the city but it’s like an RV being parked on the property. I hope this helps even just a little. 🙂

  80. Fight the power! I say find a lawyer who supports urban farming and will work for goat milk and vegetables. Someone has to fight the good fight and if you need help, let me know. I will work on setting up some charity fundraisers for you. Seedling for freedom, perhaps?

  81. FloodedByCEDA

    Posted at

    “A second campaign, Kirsch said in her blog, is expanding and increasing the number of Oakland’s urban farms for local vegetable and poultry production.”
    I attended the meeting and asked Mayor Quan the following questions:
    Is a conditional use permit required to grow a vegetable garden, or any other activity on a vacant Oakland lot?
    How much does a conditional use permit cost?
    Quan did not give a yes or no answer to the first question. She gave a 4 minute description of the issues urban farmer Novella Carpenter and her Ghost Town Farm are having with the City of Oakland. Quan also said a conditional use permit for a night club is $2500 but she doesn’t know how much a permit for a vegetable garden costs.
    Another constituent asked more detailed questions about urban farming.
    Mayor Quan related that she is busy with the budget and promised to look into the urban farming conditional use permit issue after the budget is adopted.
    To Mayor Quan: At your earliest convenience PLEASE get the ball rolling on this issue. The requirement for a $2500 conditional use permit for a vegetable garden on a vacant lot is just not right.
    To my neighbors: Watch out! code compliance is issuing Notices To Abate and filing liens.

  82. Good luck Nigella, our thoughts are with you here on the third coast. Our zoning board in Chicago is trying to write (and rewrite) a zoning code to “allow” urban ag activities (well, gardens… “livestock” like bees and aquaculture to be addressed later when they get around to it) in the city. However, what the city touts as a boon to urban ag practitioners has caused discord within formerly united factions of farmers and gardeners- some of whom want to make nice, get anything passed, and hope to amend it later, and some of whom are fighting tooth and nail to get GOOD codes written and on the books. Now they’re saying some sales from residential neighborhood gardens may be permitted as an “accessory use” but with no definition of what that means. No food processing or preparation will be permitted in community gardens- no more bbqs or fresh salads shared with neighbors, unless you’re willing to be on the hook for a ticket. It’s not easy being green. I live in a neighborhood much like yours on the west side of Chicago- no good sources of fresh food, easier to buy heroin than local honey. Urgh.

    Currently, we’re allowed to have chickens as pets, and rabbits as pets, and even goats as long as no one complains… but if you eat them, they’re suddenly illegal. Squab (aka pigeons), doves, and quail are illegal to raise in cages, but prevalent on the subway and every city street. Tilapia and other aquaculture, and commercial beekeeping, are permitted as part of an educational institution, or a community job-training group, but not commercially (so we can teach kids at our agricultural high school in one of the poorest neighborhoods of the city how to raise fish and bees… but they’re not permitted to do it for a living when they graduate, unless they move to the suburbs). All this from the city that banned fois gras but said nothing of factory eggs. Hypocrisy abounds…

  83. Victoria Fahey

    I just finished your book and it is one of the most inspiring things I have read since The One Straw Revolution…actually, even more so. I can’t thank you enough.

    I used to live in Oakland, but I now live in Bali with my own organic garden with all the non hybred seeds I can find and no urban code problems. I am a meat eater but it is hard to get meat here that I know was raised and killed well. I was actually considering getting a pig and raising it (2 pigs) and so your pig story was….instructional. If I am going to eat meat, I guess I need to start with my own chickens and you may have given me the courage to give my meat a good life and to kill it myself quickly instead of contributing to the pain and fear of feed lots and mechanical butchery.

    And you make me laugh a lot and nothing is better than that.

    Thank you, VIctoria

  84. Pingback: Articles on Vacant Land Policy « Farm 51

  85. Victoria, 2 pigs in in your bali backyard? I should think ducks are better since you have a beautiful pond there.

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