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Would It Cost You $2,500 to Grow Chard in Your Neighborhood?

Oakland urban agriculture hero Novella Carpenter was just busted for growing chard. A new interactive map shows you what's legal in your community.


For the past six years, Novella Carpenter, author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, has been growing strawberries, broccoli, dinosaur kale, honey, goats, and more in a 4500-square-foot formerly vacant lot in a rundown part of Oakland known as Ghost Town. Earlier this week, she got a nasty shock when she found a City of Oakland official taking photos of her garden. He then kindly informed her that:

I'm out of compliance for "agricultural activities." I'm supposed to get a Conditional Use Permit for growing chard. The annual fee: $2500.

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Novella Carpenter, Urban Cowgirl

My parents were back-to-the-land hippies; they were of that generation in the late 1960s that decided to reject cities and move...

My parents were back-to-the-land hippies; they were of that generation in the late 1960s that decided to reject cities and move to the country. I hated rural life. The first chance I got, I moved to Seattle and started loving cities. But I realized that something was missing: There wasn't a connection to nature, to land. So I started vegetable farming. I got some chickens. I started beekeeping. Pretty soon, I was full-on gardening and raising animals.When I moved to Oakland, California, in early 2003, I started doing the same thing, but in an apartment with a squatted piece of land next door. I had come to this neighborhood, where everyone was from somewhere else. I was always struggling with my identity. When I realized that I was a farmer, it suddenly made sense. It was why I was living in this poor neighborhood. The way I deal with living here is by offering something to the community. That's why the garden is open and people can come pick stuff and harvest freely. I like people picking their own stuff; it's empowering; it's educational.This is the ultimate slow food: planting it yourself, harvesting it yourself, cooking it yourself. That's why I'm into urban farming. All of a sudden you see things differently. You see the carton of milk at the grocery store, and you question where it came from. That's why it's so wonderful to be a producer. You become aware of the cycles. I can notice that if Beebe, my goat, is in a good mood, her milk might taste a little different. Or I'll notice that the chickens' eggs look a little different or taste a little different because they were eating a certain green. Food tastes better when you have a story connected to it. So part of the appeal of the local food experience is the story. The story is part of the satisfaction. It's the same thing with the meat. It takes 18 months to make prosciutto. It's only when you know that, when you've done the work, that you can see why it's so celebrated.

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