“We’re not guerrilla farming, throwing seed-bombs and running away…”
On a recent Sunday I joined up with about 25 others for an event showcasing City Slicker farms organized by the newly formed art and community events group Local Social. A brief stint in West Oakland piqued my interest in City Slickers, which reappropriates dormant land for community farms. I was made privy to the tour via the sharply written and savvy newsletter of local darling, The Wine Mine. Let me get this straight, a wine-tasting garden bike-tour triple feature? I had no clue so many of my favorite things could be rolled into one activity…
City Slickers was formed about 10 years about as a response to ‘structural inequality’ in the West Oakland area. It turns out West O is a natural choice for this type of endeavor. Although blighted on and off again since the Depression, in prosperous times the neighborhood housed the most affluent denizens of Oakland. The dilapidated Queen Anne’s and other old Victorian houses boast gloriously huge lots, most of which unsurprisingly lie fallow. Disease is rampant in the neighborhood, which is exacerbated by the dearth of healthy food options. Though the recent addition of the Mandela Foods Co-op has been a blessing for the community, decades have passed with very limited options. Residents have turned to either one of the 40+ liquor stores in the area or the more recent 99 Cent Store which features culinary delights such as knock-off Hostess Snowballs and spicy cheese fries.
The tour was loosely formed, informative and entertaining. We toured 3 farms in the area. The first stop was the WOW garden on 537 Lewis near the West Oakland Bart station, a narrow triangular shaped plot. Following that we toured the Center Garden, on Center and 16th, which houses bees and chickens in addition to food crops. The final and most entertaining stop (maybe it was the wine?) was Big Daddy, formerly a burned down and blighted gas station. A long term resident told us a lot of funny stories as well as the fact that 18K of Big Daddy’s $30,000 start-up grant was eaten up on the fencing alone. CS obtains most of their cash flow through grants and private donors. There is additional revenue generated by sales of community farm produce, which operates on a sliding scale for local residents. The three gardens produce eggs, honey, fruit and vegetables. They all operate on a volunteer basis and utilize suped up tricycles with flatbeds for transportation.
The periphery of each garden features native ‘pollinators’ that serve to lure in the good bugs. The farm operates through the biointensive method, which functions by upping the nutrients in soil to maximize yield. This method relies heavily on worm-casing fortified soil derived through the onsite composting and manure. They also utilize two planting methods, inter-cropping and companion planting. They experiment with differing pruning methods on their fruit trees to maximize yield.
Another offshoot of CS farms is the Backyard Garden Project. In the past 5 years BGP has installed or set up the infrastructure for over 100 gardens in West Oakland. This service provides raised bed gardens, plants from their greenhouse and ongoing mentoring to low-income residents. Recently awarded with ‘Best Urban Farm’ through the East Bay Express, City Slickers Farms continues to enrich the city of Oakland via community building and outreach.
Required reading
‘Carrots Love Tomatoes’ by Louise Riotte
‘Worms Eat My Garbage’ by Mary Appelhof


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