The mural that I highlighted yesterday (May Peace Prevail on Earth) is located just a block off 27th Street, a street I drive weekly. In the nine years I’ve lived in West Oakland, I’ve probably cruised past this spot hundreds of times and yet only noticed the mural just recently…
I decided to get out of my car (hurray!) and walk the neighborhood a bit…. it’s hard to really see things when you’re cruising by at 30 miles per hour. I found a lovely little elementary school with wonderful murals of its own (to be featured at a later date), a sweet pocket park next door, the gorgeous and historic Calou building (also to be featured another day), and this gem… the Ghost Town Farm.
What was so exciting about finding this spot is I had literally heard a full-length radio interview with the creator of the farm just days before on KQED’s Forum program… you can listen to the archive here. Her name is Novella Carpenter and she is practically a local celeb – as a student of Michael Pollan at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism she has her own book: Farm City – The Education of an Urban Farmer, her own blog: Ghost Town Farm, and her own agenda to share stories about “people who follow unconventional paths,” herself most definitely included.
What’s largely unconventional about Novella’s farm is that she’s literally homesteading on someone else’s land. It’s a large vacant & abandoned lot next door to her house that she simply decided to adopt and care for as her own. As she says in her blog, “it all started with a few chickens, then some bees…” but what she has cultivated over the last ten years is a real working farm with rabbits, goats, pigs, fruit trees, and tons and tons of vegetables.
One of the things I found interesting in her interview on KQED was her discussion of the difference between a “garden” and a “farm.” She said gardens tend to produce for an individual or one family… if someone picks your tomatoes, you might feel slighted or offended. On the contrary, farms produce for the community… when she sees someone picking her tomatoes she feels proud that they can enjoy food that she has grown. She maintains an open door policy and community members are welcome to view the farm, pick produce, meet the goats (though the day I stopped by they were secured behind the house for safety), and learn about sustainable urban farming. This girl is cool!
During the interview with Dave Iverson, there was also a fascinating discussion of the legality and appropriateness of commandeering someone else’s property… do check out the audio archive. Or better yet, check out Ghost Town Farm. As far as I’m concerned, this is an act of guerilla art at its finest.