Activists initiate urban farm revolution



A young participant writes the word “love” on a board during the Creative Commons Festival at PLACE for Sustainable Living in Oakland last Saturday.

Kris Stewart,
Online and Social Media Editor

The city of Oakland is ripe for the picking, or will be after a group of food justice activists complete their goal of renovating vacant and unused lots into urban farms. The movement is called Oakland Spring Rising and their hope is to initiate 40 farms in 40 days.

The purpose of urban farming, also referred to as urban agriculture, is to increase access of local organic food within the community as well as educate the community on sustainable living. Urban farming can be as small as planting greens in your backyard or as large as renovating an entire vacant lot.

It’s really just to get a farm started or give a community garden a good lift.

— David Grefrath

Leader of the Oakland Spring Rising revolution and farmer, David Grefrath, got his start as a farmer in New Orleans. Grefrath says the goal is to grow 100 pounds of food for 400,000 people per year using vacant lots throughout the city. “It’s really just to get a farm started or give a community garden a good lift,” said Grefrath.

According to the website, Oakland Spring Rising hopes to “support existing community groups and new urban farmers to grow as much nutritious food in an urban setting as possible.”

Each day a farm location is posted on the Oakland Spring Rising Facebook page informing people in the community where the farm location of the day is so they can join in the process. The organization officially kicked off May 1 at the Curtis Street Farm in Oakland. Since then, they have moved to several farms including Phat Beets Produce, Canticle Farm, Mindful Gardens and Dover Street Garden.

According to a study commissioned by the Oakland Food Policy Council in 2009, the city of Oakland has 828 acres on public land capable of being cultivated that could produce up to 5 percent of the city’s vegetable needs or 6 percent of the city’s fruit needs.

Before a farm can be built, the farmer has to be granted access to the land. Of course, there are several hoops — like city building, zoning and small business permits — that the farmer must jump through depending on whether the land is privately owned, government-owned or foreclosed.

Last year, at the UC Berkeley owned Gill Tract, they raised 12,000 pounds of food to give away. The land was occupied in 2012 during a social movement known as Occupy the Farm. By 2014, they were able to legally farm.

The movement was also made into a documentary about farmers who stopped the development of a shopping mall and condominium complex on a vacant lot in order to convert the available land into a farm. Grefrath was a part of both movements.

Oakland Spring Rising’s main projects will consist of soil testing to test and treat soil in order to get rid of toxins and get it ready to farm.

In areas where the soil is ready, they will offer free plants, seeds and compost to the communities who would like to start a farm. They will also provide animals like chickens and where appropriate, goats, bees, rabbits, ducks, herbal plants for medicine, bio char and mushrooms logs.

“We are going to provide communities who would like farms with empowerment, with an ability for them to start,” said Grefrath. “There is so much beauty out there already that is just waiting to have a home, so I want Oakland Spring Rising to be able to offer that home to people, to offer that farm and garden space to people, so that we can open ourselves, our tables to each other.”

Grefrath has also started a crowdfunding page to assist with funds needed to fuel the movement. More information and daily locations can be found on the Oakland Spring Rising Facebook page.