Category Archives: urban life

Gearing Up For Spring

This is a miracle: I have planted all my tomatoes already. I think it’s the first time I’ve finally realized that I live in California, and as such, I can plant stuff early early early. I tucked them under floating row cover to keep them warm during the chilly nights. I snagged some Early Girls from Kassenhoff Growers that I plan to dry-farm.
Planted three San Marzanos for canning, and two Sungolds for cherry tomatoes. I’m hoping to later get two starts of my personal favorite tomato: the amazing Paul Robeson, which I’ll probably get from Daniel at Spiral Gardens in South Berkeley.

Yesterday I also planted radishes, and added another super to my very healthy beehive. I feel so lucky to have access to my big-ass garden: Franny has taken to wandering out there in the morning to do some digging and dirt-eating.

Even if you don’t have access to a garden–for whatever reason no land, no green thumb, no time–there is something you can do this upcoming spring to ensure you’ll have a steady stream of delicious vegetables: sign up for a CSA! A CSA is an acronym for Community Supported/or Sustained Agriculture. Basically you find a farm that you believe in, promise to pay for a weekly box vegetables for a season, and then get ready for a beautiful onslaught of produce every week. CSA works great for the farmer, who god knows, needs a steady stream capital to buy seeds and property taxes and infrastructure. The consumer not only gets a share of the produce, they get the satisfaction of supporting a farmer.

If I didn’t have a garden, I would subscribe to Live Power Community Farm‘s CSA box. Live Power is a unique, amazing, draft-horse powered 40-acre farm up in Covelo. I’ve spent a few weekends there and I can say without a doubt, the produce is the most delicious I’ve ever tasted. I distinctly remember biting into one of their green gage plums, and almost crying it was so tasty. Live Power is a biodynamic farm–which goes well beyond organic standards. Gloria and Stephen are the farmers, and you’ll never meet cooler people. The care that goes into their land is palatable. You should see their compost piles. Incredible. And, the only way you are going to get Live Power produce is by subscribing to their CSA share–they don’t sell at farmer’s markets. Know that you’ll be embarking on joining a community, too. It’s not just a drop off of produce–in fact, twice a season, you’ll help pack the boxes and get to meet all the other members. It’s a great supportive community. I’m actually starting to feel jealous… So, sign up by emailing their membership coordinator: jeaner.27 at gmail dot com! They serve Marin, SF, and the East Bay. You’ll need to sign up by March 30; their season runs from May 18-December 7.

Reminder: Garden day is on for Thursday, if it’s not raining. 3-6-ish, at 2727 MLK. I rented a concrete cutter from the tool lending library so if anyone has power tool skills or aggression toward pavement, please please join us!

Miracle on 28th Street

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

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

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

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

Holy Shittt!!

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

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

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




My Neighborhood Is Changing

It’s kind of bittersweet. This weekend, our longtime neighbor D moved away from the 2-8. I’ve watched her kids, Bear and Unique, grow up from little kids into teenagers. Now there’s just a pile of leftover things in front of the house. Sure, D had issues: she always had a crazy boyfriend, she drank too much, and she played her music loud into the night. I always liked her, though, because she was sweet and real. She also used to give people who stopped by the garden a (probably slightly nonsensical) tour. We had some good times together and I’m sure I’ll see her around.

Her leaving made me realize how much our neighborhood has changed in the last 8 years. Bill and I took a Halloween walk last night. We stopped by a friend’s warehouse/music venue on West Grand and San Pablo. He’s remodeling the place, putting up walls and rooms, making a recording studio downstairs. He told us there are three art galleries/music venues within a few blocks. There’s a place called Produce Pro (pro-pro?) going up across the street from his warehouse. Then we kept walking to downtown, seeing a posse of scraper bike kids riding up Telegraph. The Arts High School at the Fox was putting on a play called Haunted School, and cool kids hung out on the corners. At Chinatown we considered getting dumplings at our favorite Chinese restaurant, Shanghai, but decided we should cook at home. We took BART to MacArthur so we could see people in costumes on public transportation (why do I love this? Dunno). We walked down Telegraph and went into Oasis, this relatively new middle eastern store/resto/hang out. I love this place because people can gather there (the Giants game was on) to have dinner or drink tea, or eat some baklava. The food is excellent and the Muslim community has made this their hub (there’s a mosque around the corner). Continuing down, Khalid the beekeeper and honey guy is setting up his shop a few blocks away from the Oasis. On 29th Street, a British guy (Bill thought he was Irish–maybe he was?) was putting away the sidewalk tables of his new restaurant/pub Commonwealth. We got to chatting with Ross and looked at the menu: bubble and squeak, beans and toast–classic pub food. They’re open for coffee/toast/tea in the morning and I hope to get over there soon. Then we walked under the overpass to home, and there were so many memories–the place where Bill went skateboarding and fell and hurt himself, the parking space where someone camped out for a whole year, the backyard that used to host the most outrageous parties. The billboard still advertised the County Fair, which took place in June. We looked up at the apartment building where a few nights ago a woman called to us while we huddled under an umbrella, from her window: “it’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring” and then we waved at her and yelled Happy Halloween and she waved back. Now it was Halloween and it wasn’t raining, and everything seemed to be changing, but it felt very familiar, if that makes any sense.

Back on 28th street, the monks’ pit bull was sniffing around the street. The smell of the garden–rank in places, green and fresh in others–wafted in the air. I could hear the goats nickering to their kids to come down from the stairs. Our cat Cuzzin was asleep on the couch. I spent the rest of the night reading Goat Song, and making plans for expanding the garden into the fall and winter. I want to build a greenhouse and a proper hay shed, a full-on outdoor kitchen. The other night we were making pizza in the cob oven and a guy and his lady walked by. “Is that a fire?” she asked, and I invited them in. They peered over the fence, “we have to go,” he explained and paused. “But you know, thank you for the invitation. I really appreciate it.” This is what I love about Oakland–we’re all here, figuring it out together, making a community, and inviting others to join us. So even though my neighborhood is changing–some might say gentrifying–I think it might be okay, as long as we all retain that spirit of sharing resources, expressing who we are, and prioritizing interaction with each other, all at the same time.

Calling Urban Farmers

As much as I hate driving, sometimes it gives me a good idea. The other day, on the hour drive up to Dixon to buy hay and a manger, I realized that I should invite other urban farmers to my pop-up farmstand so they can sell their produce. It’ll be like an urban farmers market!

This is happening Oct 27th (next Wednesday) from 4pm-7pm; and again on November 17th 4pm-7pm; at 665 28th street at MLK.

If you live in the East Bay and are an urban grower/farmer, consider this a call to contact me (novellacarpenter at gmail), to sign up to sell. In your email, tell me what you’d like to sell, where you live, and we’ll figure it out. Obviously you have to have grown it yourself! Added value is neat, but let’s start with veg, fruits, eggs first and go from there. I’ve noticed that things like eggs, honey, and potatoes are huge sellers! I’ll have some tables but if you have a table, by all means, bring it. I’ll be selling dino kale, figs, salad mix, and a few plant starts. You’ll be selling what?

Also, note that tomorrow (Wednesday, Oct 20) I’ll be selling stuff at the Pop Up General Store at Martin Luther King Jr Way and 49th Street, 5-7pm. See you there!

I Heart the Tooling Lending Library

In the middle of chaos came Shirley. I was washing salad greens for the Pop Up General store and someone knocked on the door. I’m like, “Who that?” from the top of the stairs, and then just another polite knock. So I went downstairs and there she was: the (relatively) new owner of the lot. “Shirley?” I said, and she nodded. Dreading condos, but knowing the real reason why she had come over, I asked how she was doing, and told her to come out into the garden, as I had a gift for her. I dashed upstairs and got a vase and scissors. Her timing really could not have been more perfect. The orange tiger lilies which she asked me to plant for her were in full glorious bloom. I arranged a vase of the flowers for her, and then we talked about the property.

I really needed to mow down all the weeds in the strip next to the sidewalk, Shirley told me. I know, I know, I said, but I don’t have any time. Then she looked confused: “But what about all the time you spent in here, growing stuff?” she laughed. “I mean, I don’t have time for maintenance,” I giggled. You know how there’s this thing that is really bugging you–some chore that you really need to take care of but never get around to it? Cutting grass is like that for me, I avoid it until it’s too late. Then I gave her a copy of Farm City, just so she would know the whole story.

OK, I thought, after she left, now with a fire under my ass to tidy up the place. I better find my machete. But I couldn’t locate it. Then I remembered the Tool Lending Library in Temescal. The history of the library is cool: after the 1991 fire in the Oakland Hills, they wanted to set up a resource center for rebuilding. It didn’t take hold and get fully funded through the library until 2000. Anyway, I ran down there, signed up, rented two hand tools. The next day I could return the hand tools and will have earned the right to rent a power tool. A juicy WeedWacker! These grasses and weeds were huge. The next day, my savior was there, cleaned and ready. It only took me half an hour to wack it back, and then some weeds out in the garden too. What a relief, and thank the ghods for Oakland’s Tool Lending Library! As for condos? Shirley told me not this year.

If you want to find out more about the TLL, click here.  They do have weird hours, so check the website before hustling down there.

New York, New York

Fun fact: I once was a maid in New York City. Well, Park Slope. If my employers could only see my kitchen floor now–all spotted with sauerkraut drippings, goat berries, and drifts of straw–actually, they would not be surprised at all because I was a terrible, awful, sad, underpaid, lonely maid. When I last spent real time in NYC, I had been broke, kind of gimpy from a bike accident, and utterly overwhelmed by the city.

Last week I returned to the city that nearly killed me! Still broke, but walking fine, and no, not overwhelmed at all. I used to think the goal in New York was to look like I knew what I was doing: to know which side of the subway door to depart from, to walk with real purpose, to never appear lost. Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten older, but this time around, none of that mattered. I was happily confused to ride the Air Train and not know how to pay. I was glad to repeatedly miss the free Ikea ferry to Red Hook. I often walked in circles in the Lower East side, and even ate at a terrible, fake “diner” where I paid too much for coffee and a bad (even in NYC!) bagel.

I was in New York to promote my book for two days, just a quick in and out. I had the fun experience of running (in clogs) down Avenue of the Americas because I was late to a talk at Bryant Park. It was a green panel discussion held during the lunch hour. I barely made it there by 12:30, gently sweating as I met my fellow panelists, the guy from Terracycle, an editor from Edible Brooklyn, and an environmentalist author of Sleeping Naked is Green. A business suit guy yelled when he heard the title of her book and came up to her during the panel discussion so she could sign his copy of the book. I talked about children growing carrots, and somehow, pot.

That night, I ventured into Brooklyn, a place where I had washed sheets and scrubbed counters, stolen cheese, subsisted on peanut butter. My reading was on a rooftop farm in Greenpoint. The farmer, Ben, is the real deal. He has 6,000 square feet of vegetables performing mightily: eggplants, cucs, tomatoes, herbs. They sell to restaurants and at a farm stand. The roof was treated like any green roof, Ben explained, many layers, membranes, water collection/diversion channels. But instead of planting grasses and flowers, they hauled in tons of compost, mixed it with perlite, and created French intensive-style beds to grow veggies.

The farm is above the Brooklyn Kitchen, a retro kitchenware store and place that teaches classes about such things as cheesemaking and canning. They set up a table and handed out bread with goat cheese and fresh vegetables from the garden. I had my prosciutto with me and shaved off bits to share with the 40 or so people. Then I read some from my book, looking out at the Manhattan skyline whenever I dared glance up from the pages. It did feel like a victory. To come back to a place that had kicked my ass, to return as a published author, and to be reading to a rapt audience.

That night I had insomnia and called Bill to remind him to make sure the male rabbit had enough water. It was 4:45am in New York, only 2am in Oakland. “Are you awake?” I asked. “I was just about to fall asleep!” Bill yelled. I told him I had remembered about the rabbit, and was worried because it had been so hot out, and then hung up. I still couldn’t go to sleep. I could hear New York waking up in my hotel on 54th Street, the big trucks rumbling around, the tour buses gearing up for another day on the town. Maybe I was nervous because later that day, I was going to go on the Leonard Lopate show, a live radio show at WNYC, and then I would fly home.

Later that day, while I answered Lopate’s questions, I tripped out that I was here, in NYC, telling people about Oakland, about my little farm, my daily chores, what the neighbors thought of me (I still don’t really know), what animals I had now, and who was taking care of the animals in my absence. I had a rush of total sadness, as I recited the things doing in the East Bay. And when I returned home late Friday night, the first thing I did was go out to the goats, corraled them into the sleeping area, shut the gate, made plans for morning milking, and felt a sudden relief as if I had been holding my breath in New York the whole time I was there.