The shrieks and squeals of happy children could be heard Friday over the boombox blasting pop music at Acta Non Verba Youth Urban Farm project in East Oakland. This was a day for play, not work. Celebrating the end of 100 hours of summer labor in the garden, nine local kids ran wild and free among the garden beds arranged in neat rows on the half-acre lot.
“My son actually ate some squash they had made,” said Monique Gomez, whose 9 year-old daugher Tajae and 6 year-old son Thomas Harris participated in the program. “He doesn’t like vegetables, so that surprised me.”
Acta Non Verba is Latin for “deeds, not words,” and the community garden—22 beds on a quarter-acre plot at thnTassafaronga Recreation Center, off 83rd Avenue and E Street—is the project of East Oakland native Kelly Carlisle. The retired Navy seawoman was working an unsatisfying office job, she said, when local children became interested in the small garden she had started for herself and her daughter Kai. So Carlisle decided to try expanding the garden to a grander scale. Two years ago, with a donated city use permit and help from the Oakland Parks & Rec department, she opened Acta Non Verba near her old childhood stomping grounds.
“It’s a way for youth to understand that there are better things to do in East Oakland than make devilment,” she said. “They have a say in how they live, and what the communities are like where they live.”
Walking through the garden, Carlisle’s second in command, Kyle Reddin, stopped to inspect a young ear of corn under attack from aphids. Black dots were spread over the leaves. He explained that a biodegradable soap and water sprayed on the leaves would dry out the aphids. That is just one of the organic gardening tricks the recent UC Berkeley graduate has helped teach the kids since joining the garden last fall as a volunteer. According to Reddin, until this summer the garden gave all the produce away to draw in community members. Then the youth participants were encouraged to take fresh produce home to their families, and sell the rest from their stand within the garden.
“The kids aspect of it is really big,” Reddin said. “That’s one of the more successful ways to bring in the whole family.” Once the kids were there, the next step was making sure they t like full participants in the direction of their community garden.
“The kids were involved in absolutely every part of the gardening process,” Reddin said. “They did hands-on garden work. They planted a lot of the stuff here, watered it, tended all the weeding, put all this mulch in the pathways.” He gestured to the thick spongy layer of mulch surrounding the raised beds of tomatoes, various summer squashes, collards, strawberries and edible flowers.
This summer the young gardening entrepreneurs netted around $150. Carlisle said all the proceeds will be matched 3 to 1 by community partners and divvied up into individual development accounts for each participant. These accounts can be used only for educational purposes, and gardeners who fell short of the 100-hour goal this summer will be given a chance to complete the 100 hour commitment this fall.
“The kids that have been working with us have taken a positive step towards making the community they want,” said Carlisle. “The way that they speak and relate to each other has been really refreshing. They don’t call each other names and don’t hit each other. We were really pleased with our work here this summer.”
Starting next week, the hours will change to accommodate the youth participants who will be returning to school. The tentative plans are to be open Monday, Wednesday and Fridays from 2-5 p.m. and open every other Saturday.
In the meantime, another development in the works for Carlisle and company is her invitation to Terra Madre, a slow food conference in Turin Italy. Carlisle is one of five Bay Area delegates chosen to attend. The invitation covers room and board, but not travel costs, and Carlisle hopes to raise money for the trip through her firstgiving.com page so she can represent Bay Area urban gardening projects and the effects she believes they have on communities.
Which is a lesson that Carlisle’s mother Ashwana taught the children, while working as a summer volunteer teacher in the garden, on the power of a single seed to feed and create communityn. Ashwana and Carlisle’s father have been avid participants in the project, The garden was about to close for the day, and Ashwana was gathering her belongings, but she took a moment to sum up the lesson. “With one seed you can grow twenty squashes,” she said. “From those twenty squashes there are at least 100 seeds in each squash. Soon you’ll have enough to pass out and give to everybody and you can feed the whole world.”