Keepin’ It Real Local With Deeds, Not Words


In August 2010, East Oakland native and avid gardener Kelly Carlisle (pictured at right) started up a youth urban farm project on a quarter-acre plot at the Tassafaronga Recreation Center in East Oakland. She gave it a name intended to inspire young gardeners: Acta Non Verba. “It means ‘Deeds not Words’ in Latin,” she explains. “We named it that because we wanted the youth we work with to know that we’re about actual change.”

Carlisle became motivated after hearing a series of frustrating news stories. In one, the FBI called Oakland the fifth most dangerous city in the United States. Another reported that Oakland’s high school dropout rate was nearly 40 percent.

Says Carlisle, a veteran of the United States Navy, “Most of the kids who are in trouble—whether it’s violence, drugs, prostitution, et cetera—don’t have choices about where they live, whether there’s a positive home life, or what their family’s income is. I wanted to create a program where the kids have a say. I was looking for a way for children to invest in themselves, to create a trust for themselves.”

The farm has been bountiful, and the kids have the first dibs on the produce. What they don’t take home to their families they sell at their new farmstand. One hundred percent of the proceeds from sales goes into Individual Development Accounts: matched savings accounts that help people with modest means to save toward the purchase of a lifelong asset, such as educational pursuits.

Now in its third year, the program serves young people ranging in age from 5 to 13, all of whom live within walking distance—six blocks at most—of the garden, so this is real local. They start the day with group exercise, which includes calisthenics and games. Then they get down to the business of gardening: composting, mulching, planting, all of it. They eat a healthy lunch, which includes discussion of what constitutes good nutrition, and they learn about where food comes from, along with gaining general environmental awareness.

The planting design is whimsical, creative, and fun. There’s the Pizza Bed, which hosts four different varieties of paste tomatoes, basil, and peppers; the Salad Bed; and also the Three Sisters Bed, with the traditional Native American planting of squash, corn, and beans. Loofah squash grow in the Crafts Bed along with gourds that the children will harvest and use to make dippers and birdhouses. The recently planted Edible Flower Bed offers borage, calendula, chamomile, marigold, sunflowers, nasturtium, and hollyhock.












Want to help?

As executive director of the project, Carlisle has found invaluable support from and through such partners as the California Food and Justice Coalition ( ) and Communities for a Better Environment ( ), which have provided help writing grants and connecting with resources. The Farmer Veteran Coalition ( ) awarded Carlisle a fellowship in the form of a low-miles, heavy-duty work truck with a crew cab, and hooked her up with organic seed companies. But more support is needed, and donations are encouraged. Please donate online at, and consider helping as a volunteer.

There’s another opportunity to help Kelly extend her transformative reach. She has been selected as one of five U.S. delegates from the Bay Area to the annual Slow Food gathering, Terra Madre and Salone Del Gusto, this October in Turin, Italy. If she goes, she’ll have the opportunity to represent the Bay Area’s strong food justice movement, as well as Bay Area urban youth and Acta Non Verba Farm. Her delegate scholarship pays for most of her room and board while in Italy, but it does not cover the cost of travel. You can help as a sponsor of Kelly’s trip with a donation made at To find out more about Terra Madre, go to

Keeping the kids busy keeps Carlisle busy, but doesn’t keep her from being welcoming and warm, or from extending a sincere, invitation: “Come and visit us and see the work we do!”

Wednesday October 24

National Food Day at Acta Non Verba Farm

Corner of 83rd Ave and E St, Oakland 

Join the folks at this youth-run farmstand in East Oakland, profiled on page 20, for their officially registered National Food Day event (learn more at ). The farm is hosting a cook-off featuring people who live in the neighborhood and have been invited to make dishes that highlight fresh local produce. Kelly Carlisle, executive director of Acta Non Verba, says, “Remember, there are people here with fruit trees in their backyard who have done jam-making for decades, who grow produce, and have chickens!” Info:

Acta Non Verba Farmstand

Open every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 10–2, and also on the first Saturday of each month.
Located at the corner of 83rd Avenue and E Street in Oakland

­—Jillian Steinberger

Jillian Steinberger owns and operates The Garden Artisan, an ecological landscaping company that designs, builds, and maintains edible and herb gardens that attract humans and pollinators both. She also works with native and Mediterranean plants creating hedgerows and meadows, and she loves pruning fruit trees. Contact Jillian at jillian(at)garden-artisan(dot)com.

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