Back to the Roots

It’s been a weird couple of months. Feels like a horror movie, and we all want to know: when will this end?

For me as an urban farmer, it’s been a weird couple years.

I had been an urban farmer but due to various circumstances, I had slowly let everything go: the rabbits, the goats, the chickens, the bees, and finally the garden. I became a Costco shopper and I grew ornamentals. Why, I thought, should I raise chickens, when I can just buy eggs from the store? Deep in my prepper mind, I knew that the day would come when the knowledge base I had collected might come in handy again, but but I will admit it: I got soft.
Part of it was I became separated from the farm. My partner Billy and I, and our 8-year old daughter were evicted from the house where we had started the urban farm called Ghosttown back in 2003. Separated from the land we had been tending for 15 years, we settled in a duplex in North Oakland with a concrete driveway. I gave my chickens to friends, my bees absconded from the hive around the same time we got evicted. The orchard and garden are still growing, but are tended by a different group of urban farmers who are rooted in social justice, herbal medicine, and working with the people of West Oakland. I moved on knowing this was right action.
But now, with Covid raging, and cracks in our society revealed to show inequities and weaknesses in the system, we have to do something as citizens. A friend told me this is our zero gravity moment. We are all up in the air, struggling to feel grounded. When we do land, how will the circumstances be shifted? Can we make things right, finally, for once? This is what inspires me–we need to demand a new way of living. We need more edible parks like Dover Park in Oakland, we need community orchards, we need to dig up streets and plant vegetables like Starhawk told us. We need to look at models like permaculture, but not the white male interpretation, the emergent strategy version.
I am suddenly called again, back to urban farming. My friends at Sierra magazine asked me to write a little something, here’s a story about gardening with children. Also, I found myself up in Solano county picking up a colony of bees. They are happily buzzing in the backyard. I am reminded, this is how it all started before, with a colony of bees. It’s a first step toward getting grounded into the Earth again.

14 responses to “Back to the Roots

  1. I’m glad to see you’re back at it. I too have been fretting through this covid thing, thinking to myself “why did I let my garden go to ornamentals? why did I let my deep pantry dwindle down? why did I let my connections fade out?” and now I’m also in that zero gravity moment, trying to find my way. I don’t know where I’ll end up and that’s scary but good.

  2. I am thrilled to see you are back at it. These days are strange. I am in Child’s Creek, New Brunswick Canada where we have quite a few local farms on the go. Having the world shut down has been a real eye opener in terms of sustainability. I think more people are starting to pay attention to and value food production. As scary as these days have been, the awakening for the need to become more self sufficient is very encouraging and positive.
    I am looking forward to reading your story on gardening with children, as I plan on gardening with my 7 kids. (#6 is actually named Novella… I was reading your books and blog 4 years ago and I was inspired to raise goats and chickens and thought Novella was a good strong name). We still have the goats, layers and my 12 year old raises and processes meat birds… we took your advice and held off on the pigs. I am looking forward to reading and learning more. Thanks Novella.

  3. Here on the other coast of Canada, I’m in Sooke, British Columbia. Sooke has a Transition Town group, of which I am a member. Just about a year ago we held a Green New Deal town hall, and were thrilled by the ideas that came out of that. Each of the primary areas of discussion (such as Green Energy, Local Transportation, an yes, Food Security) spawned an action group (there are about 10 groups!). The local Food Security Action Group has partnered with a group in the nearby capital city of Victoria. The Victoria group is called FED (Food Eco District), and the joint program is intended to cause an explosion in backyard gardening by supplying containers, soil, seeds, and starts. And, here in Sooke, raised beds. With local buy-in from Sooke Food Community Health Initiative and the local garden club, we should be leaving people with not just a garden, but also ongoing support in the practice of backyard food growing. With 50 families signed up without any publicity, it’s getting pretty exciting around here!
    Between both groups, the hope is to get over one thousand gardens up and running this year. It won’t mean we’re fully food secure, but it should give us a significant push in that direction.
    I’ve also upped my game this year (not to the level of Ghost Town Farm sadly), doubling the amount of space we’ve dedicated to gardening. I’m still relatively new to this climate–we used to market garden in north central Alberta–and I’m finding all my gardening knowledge to be almost useless in our new home. But we have local farms within blocks of where we are, and our back fence borders on 4 hectares (10 acres) of undeveloped land that is currently home to lots of fowl and three cows that come to my back fence and ask for treats. Best urban environment ever!
    And it’s clear that going back to the Before Times isn’t a good option. Everything we were told about how we couldn’t fight climate change has been shown to be a lie: we’ve shut down the economy, idled the factories, offered free money to the population. All things we were told couldn’t be done.The lesson isn’t how unprepared we were. The lesson is that it is entirely possible to change the world. We just have to do it.

  4. Mary Leigh

    so glad to see your post! Loved your book (still give it to friends as a gift). You’re inspiring and talented. Don’t give up!

  5. Odd, the other day I was wondering where you had gone as I hadn’t seen your writings for some time. Maybe I missed your farewell.

    Glad to see you are back!

    Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

  6. e.b.: wow, that is exciting about the FED group. i’ll have to check them out! it seems like that is the biggest problem when we talk about folks growing their own food. willow at city slickers did the same with their backyard garden project. thanks for sharing!

  7. stacey: i am soooo excited to hear about little novella–that is just too damn cute.

  8. Christine Shepherd

    perfect post for may day. glad to see you are back! i miss being around the corner from your urban oasis. (we were also evicted in april 2016).

  9. Maureen Persico

    Hello from San Francisco. I gave up my chickens a few years ago after battling a terrible mice infestation. I’m still raising food in my small but healthy garden. Your post reminded me that nothing stays the same, even Novella Carpenter stopped growing food and buys at Costco. Sorry to hear about your eviction, I’d be really interested in reading an article or book about that. Wondering how you are earning a living, not to be nosy but because I’ve been struggling with right livelihood vs. earning $. I hope you’ll continue to update this blog. All the best.

  10. We don’t know each other, but I admire your writing and your insight. I am sorry about the rough times, as so many have had, but my guess is that you have another book in you about your return from softness to, perhaps, guidance and energy. Keep writing, do workshops, be educational not just horticultural or agricultural: that’s what people want, need, hunger for, will pay for. Lots of city dwellers have no idea how to take step 1, and will want to, for at least the next several years. Don’t let your expertise go to waste: now is the right time for it.
    n.b. I have a 3 acre ccof orchard in SB, keep bees, write books, cook, practice medicine.

  11. Hey lady, good to have you back! I didn’t realize that you had been separated from your land. I have containers and seeds – lots of seeds – if you feel the need to grow something.

  12. You popped into my head today and I wondered had you written anything on your blog lately…what a wonderful surprise! It is so good to read your words and catch up a little on your world. You can never know how much you inspire. You and your sister are amazing. Love and health and happiness to you and yours!

  13. I just had a look here after having not seen anything new for awhile and found some new posts. I’m awfully sorry to read about your eviction. I hope you can get land that you love again. Your book is a delight.

  14. Maureen Ogilvie

    My daughter came home from college to the Oregon Coast in March for a quick visit. She wasn’t able to return to USF because of the Covid lock down. With only one term left to graduate, and all of us feeling so anxious and unsure about life, she logged on to your class to learn about gardening from our dining room table!
    From time to time I could overhear snippets of the class and I was so moved by the care and humanity in your interactions with your students. Always checking in first to see how everybody was coping, it touched me so much. In the end, together, my daughter and I remade a small patch of earth into an herb garden and strawberry patch, careful to choose plants that the visiting elk would not touch. So far, so good! My daughter graduated and she has returned to the city that she loves. I get to look out of my kitchen window each day to see the results of our labor. I am looking forward to sharing the bounty with the neighborhood this summer. Believe me when I say that the garden, along with the Kimchee lesson gave us a way to connect, learn together and share some joy in a very dark and unsettling time. Thank you so much.

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