Urban Gardening: It’s Not That Hard Y’all!

the yardener

With the high prices of fresh fruits and vegetables at the local farmers’ market or grocery store, having access to quality food can be hard. Folks living in areas of East Oakland have an even harder time buying and accessing good veggies and fruits because there are no grocery stores.

Several months ago I saw a talk by a community gardener named Ron Finley who has been growing food on the patches of soil between the sidewalk and streets of South Central Los Angeles. I found his talk to be entertaining because he could be my friend or neighbor,, and eye opening because I have seen many of the same conditions on the streets of East Oakland. We could do the same here.

Growing our own food can save us money in the long run, but could also prevent a variety of  health issues too. We know that hypertension is the leading cause of death among African Americans and diabetes is on rise among Hispanics in Alameda County. Often times, this is caused by poor diet or eating too much processed foods. The solution is as simple as growing our own food or by affiliating yourself with someone who does.

I reached out to the Founder and Executive Director of Acta Non Verba, an urban farm located on 83rd Ave. and E St., Kelly Carlisle. Acta Non Verba works mostly work with 5- to 17-year-olds in their “garden-as-a-classroom” teaching gardening, weeding and harvesting. With the food they produce, they provide community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes. Which is just that – a box with fresh produce from their community garden and delivered to your home. This can work for people who do not have a plot of land, do not want to grow food or do not have the time.

But what if you want to start your own garden?

Carlisle suggests the following steps:

  1. Test your soil for lead or other contaminants
  2. Determine if you will use raised beds (50 square feet)
    1. Use new redwood to form your box (avoid treated wood)
  3. Find out what grows best in your neighborhood (micro climates vary throughout Oakland)
  4. A southerly facing garden is best for maximum sun exposure
  5. Water your garden in the morning during the summer months and in the afternoon during the fall and winter months
  6. Add compost to your bed or garden to increase nutrients
  7. Read How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons
  8. Most importantly start small

Some East Oakland residents, like my neighbor, a.k.a. the Yardener, have already started converting their lawns to gardens. By following steps like those above , the Yardener is producing carrots, peppers, radishes, tomatoes, zucchinis, and plenty of herbs. So much so, that he has placed a “free box” near the sidewalk with his excess produce in it for all to take. The Yardener started his garden because he got fed up with reading food labels and trying to determine what wouldn’t kill him. Like me, many neighbors appreciate the garden and stop by to pick up some fresh produce from time to time.

But in reality you do not have to start big. With a little soil, some herb seeds, and a container, you could place your own small garden near a window, outside your entrance or on a ledge. All you need to do is make sure there is direct sunlight and water it twice a week. Some possible herbs to consider: cilantro, parsley, rosemary, garlic, chives, tarragon, or mint. These are all great herbs that could complement many of your dishes.

As East Oakland residents, we have been dealing with and surviving various difficult situations. So we are capable. We can now stop depending on food corporations for our food. By learning where our food comes from and rethinking what we put in our bodies, we can find the internal motivation to start to make some long lasting health impacts for ourselves and our hood.

The time is now. Find a neighbor who is down to help you and start the planning today.



CATEGORIES: Blog, Food Access, Health Happens in Neighborhoods, Land Use, People Power

Sergio R. Martinez, MPH

Mr. Sergio Martinez was born and raised (and currently living in the Fruitvale neighborhood) in Oakland. He has a Master's in Public Health and has worked in public health and higher academia for many years.