In spite of all the reports about our nation’s dwindling farmland, here in the East Bay we can still go out to Brentwood in early summer and pick fruit. It’s a fairly straightforward activity and appeals, as it has for decades, to families looking for something fun to do together. The ready-mix trucks may outnumber the tractors in Brentwood, but there are still places to set a ladder beside a cherry tree or simply stand on fertile and productive East Bay agricultural land to have a look around.
With California’s population projected to rise from 34 to over 46 million by 2030 (and Bay Area cities absorbing a huge percentage of that), it’s hard to imagine Brentwood farmers continuing to hold back with their pitchforks a flood of people needing places to live. But patronizing our East Bay farmers is one way we can all help revalue that land for food production, since all those people will need food as well as shelter, and some might even appreciate employment in tending the local foodshed.
As a magazine advocating for locally produced foods, Edible East Bay has been shining a light, for over five years now, on the nearby farms where new ideas and energy are going toward making food production more healthy and sustainable. It’s encouraging to note that the interest in those efforts on the part of consumers has been growing.
But it’s not just about farms. Through these five years, we’ve been watching a curious expansion in types of food-growing places: suburban front yards, city parks, schoolyards, abandoned lots, and even rooftops. There’s a bigger vision coming together about how we can feed ourselves. We need our farms and our farmers, and we also can support food production right here in our crowded living places.
The irony at the moment is to see legal issues cropping up unexpectedly as “rocks in the field” of our local urban agriculture movement. There’s the very recent and much-reported case of urban farmer Novella Carpenter’s run-in with Oakland city officials looking to levy taxes over the meager profits she made on products derived from her West Oakland squat farming efforts. Fortunately, the city is now looking at its policies around urban food production, and may revise some of those laws soon. Watch for more on this in coming issues.
On another front, the urban homesteading movement has suddenly run into a surprising impasse: The very term “urban homesteading”—which has been in common use for decades to describe the revival of homesteading skills for application in an urban environment—has been trademarked. This brings up some egregious legal and financial issues for various enterprising DIYers who have been employing the simply descriptive term in their business literature and elsewhere. Read all about it in the article that starts on page 46 of this issue.
With a long summer of local food production ahead, we hope that reading these pages will help you become even more interested in the wonderful complexity involved in providing good food locally for local people.
Please pick some peas, shuck some corn, slice up a big fat local tomato, and make friends with a goat or some chickens in your neighborhood this summer!
Cheryl Angelina Koehler
Edible East Bay
Photo: Art tile by K. Ruby Blume