Oakland Sprouting New Farming Laws

The days of paying $2,500 to get permission from Oakland to grow fruits and vegetables for the benefit of the community may soon be gone.

The East Bay city is looking to update its outdated ordinances that govern urban farming, a growing movement across the country with an epicenter in Oakland.

Novella Carpentar of Ghost Town Farm made headlines in May when she was forced to turn to readers of her blog to raise the necessary funds to obtain a conditional use permit to run her urban farm in the shadow of Oakland's skyline.

Now Oakland's city planners are going through the books and trying to update zoning codes that were written in the 1960s, when the city was still a growing metropolis and becoming a new urban home for people fleeing farm land.

The move comes after community pressure trying to ensure that no one has to go through what Carpentar did to bring healthy food to the market.

There are at least an estimated two dozen urban farms and gardens operating in Oakland right now, with hundreds of more residents growing food for their own consumption.

Thursday evening, Oakland city officials will host the first of at least two community meetings to discuss how best to update the ordinances to make urban farming more accessible to more people. The meeting will be held at the North Oakland Senior Center, 5714 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, at 6:30 p.m.

The city is expected to tackle not only how best to permit the growing of fruits and vegetables but also creating humane criterion for people to raise their own livestock.

What some residents and community organizations want is an easier, less expensive permitting process and encouragement for more people to get involved.

"By breaking down some of these barriers to growing and selling food within our communities, we are going to create more open spaces for people to develop more skills and to create more food enterprises in the city, so more people can grow and provide healthier options for their neighbors," said Aaron Lehmer, the campaigns director for Bay Localize, an Oakland-based environmental non-profit organization.

Lehmer said one of the first steps is to cut the cost of obtaining a conditional use permit from the thousands of dollars to the hundreds of dollars.

With a streamlined process to operating permitted farms, Lehmer says will only encourage more people to get involved and grow healthy crops for themselves and their animals.

In West Oakland, the words "health, jobs, education" drape a mural of several historical figures, including Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X and Frida Kahlo.

Under that mural a community is already harvesting their own food on the grounds of Ralph Bunche High School in West Oakland.

The garden is run by City Slicker Farms, which organizes low-income children, youth and adults in West Oakland to grow, distribute and eat more organic produce.

The garden brings out both young and old at all hours of the day. Wednesday 14-year-old Aleah Bashir of West Oakland was working the garden, learning about growing her own food.

"My mom has a backyard garden," she said. "She's involved with gardening (and) she received an email about the (program), and that's how I found out and joined."

The garden, like others across Oakland, gives volunteers the opportunity to learn how to cultivate a fruit or vegetable from the beginning in an environment where they may not have the access or space to do it otherwise.

"I get to see the whole process from beginning to end," said Lake Merritt resident Courtney Pankrat. "I get to pull seeds while I'm at the greenhouse. I harvest on Fridays at other locations and I get to sell on Saturdays."

For more information of urban farming in Oakland, visit the following websites:

Contact Us