Acta Non Verba Youth Urban Farm uses a garden classroom to teach about food
on November 25, 2011
“Ladies, we’ve got some greens here for you!” yells Kelly Carlisle to a group of women in brightly-colored dresses coming out of one of the Tassafaronga Village apartments in East Oakland.
“I’m sending my sister around later to get them!” one of them shouts back as she hurries to her car. Carlisle, her jeans wet at the hems from walking through the rain-soaked grass, flashes a smile and waves them on, then returns to inspecting the fuschia-stemmed beet greens growing in a planter at her feet.
Moments later she sees a man strolling down the street in a black flat-brimmed baseball cap. “We’ve got greens here for you today,” Carlisle says. “Take ‘em home, cook ‘em up for Thanksgiving.”
The man pauses on the sidewalk, sizing up the woman in the camouflage coat with dreads pulled up high on top of her head. “I didn’t bring a bag,” he says.
“That’s okay, I’ve got some right here,” she replies, going over to a stash of plastic bags and taking one out. “What would you like?”
Carlisle is the founder of the Acta Non Verba Youth Urban Farm, a program that teaches young people about growing food by using a garden as a classroom. The kids, most of whom are between the ages of 7 and 13, get to take the vegetables they grow home to their families, or donate them to the neighboring community.
Located on a quarter-acre of Tassafaronga Park in East Oakland, the Acta Non Verba Youth Urban Farm is nestled between an old baseball diamond, a grove of evergreens and a well-worn swing set. Surrounded by a halo of mesh netting, it contains two tidy rows of raised beds, each one five feet by ten and bursting with food. Plump heads of cabbage, slender stalks of onion and garlic, huge leafy chard, kale, spinach, and lettuce and delicate tops of carrots all shoot up from the black, loamy soil, separated neatly by twine dividers pulled taut over the raised boxes. Acta Non Verba broke ground on the project in August and held its grand opening October 1.
Carlisle and other Acta Non Verba staff work in the garden on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and kids from the surrounding neighborhood and the nearby Tassafaronga Village, an affordable housing development, often drop by to water, weed and tend the growing plants. “We have a regular schedule, so they know when to come,” Carlisle said. “There are about twenty kids who rotate through on a regular basis.”
On Thanksgiving morning, Carlisle was giving away the produce they had grown to members of the neighboring community. Carlisle had done a lot of outreach in the preceding days and weeks, sending texts and emails to residents on the Acta Non Verba contact list, as well as going door to door letting people know that there would be free fresh produce available for the taking. A handful of people braved the overcast weather to collect bags of spinach, chard, and broccoli greens, and Carlisle said an additional 13 families had stopped by the previous Sunday to take part in the harvest as well.
A resident who lives just down the road and simply goes by “Memoma” (pronounced like Mee-Mama) didn’t get the texts, she said, because her phone had been recently stolen, but she walked over when she saw people in the garden. “I thought to myself, ‘Those people aren’t supposed to be here,’” she said. “So I thought I’d come over and check it out.”
Memoma’s grandson Rafell, 5, had helped build the farm’s planter boxes, shovel in the soil, and put in a top layer of cedar woodchips. He was there on Thanksgiving, bundled up in a winter coat and a black wool hat, picking out some broccoli greens for his grandmother. Rafell visits the garden every Saturday, where he helps keep it neat and weed-free. “My favorite part is covering up the dirt,” he said, running his fingers through the cedar chips that help keep moisture in and weeds out.
Right now the farm’s young volunteers learn as they work, with Carlisle telling them about how plants grow and showing them other garden inhabitants such as aphids and caterpillars. But starting in the spring, Acta Non Verba will adopt a formal curriculum and education program at the urban farm.
In May, they plan to open a Tassafaronga Youth Farmer’s Market, where the kids will learn about selling produce in a market setting, while providing vegetables to the neighborhood and bringing in profits for the farm. In the spring, Acta Non Verba organizers also hope to install a fence around the garden and rent out some of the raised beds to families and individuals, which they hope will help offset some of their costs.
“One of the big issues is security,” Carlisle said, referring to the need for fencing around the garden. “People want to make sure that their produce is going to be here.”
At the present time, the farm is open to anyone who wants to stop by and take home produce. Carlisle said so far they haven’t had any problems with the garden being raided by neighbors taking food without permission, but they have had some minor acts of vandalism. But once they start renting out space, a fence will be necessary to keep people from taking produce, she said.
Memoma, who can see the farm from her home across the street, is always peeking out her window to check up on it. “We all take time out during the week to keep watch on it,” she said. “This is a Godsend for us. We’re low income. It’s a real blessing to the neighborhood, and the kids are so proud of it.”
On December 17th Acta Non Verba is hosting the 1st Annual Elmhurst Community Holiday Craft and Health Faire. It is free and open to the public. For more information or to sign up to be a vendor or exhibitor check out their website at www.anvfarm.org.
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