Food for Thought


A young gardener collects kale at Oakland urban farm Acta Non Verba.

A New Exhibit Takes Root at the Oakland Museum

A resettled-refugee farmer harvests crops at Laney College’s New Roots garden.

Urban agriculture is thriving in Oakland, and a new museum exhibit shows us how and why this is happening. Take Root: Oakland Grows Food, now on display at the Oakland Museum of California, invokes the joy of gardening and inspires visitors of all ages to consider some planting of their own.

Through engaging videos and photos, the exhibit introduces some of the food justice and farming activists who have nurtured the city’s urban agriculture movement. Among the ventures portrayed are urban farms like City Slicker and Acta Non Verba, a school-based gardening program called Love Cultivating Schoolyards, and the New Roots garden at Laney College, where refugees share their native farming techniques with students.

In the exhibit space, guests are invited to pick up a pencil and draw their favorite plants and foods or to peer into a microscope for close-up views of garden-friendly beetles and wasps. Grisly video footage shows scary-looking bugs that actually protect gardens from harmful pests like the tomato hornworm. Very young museum goers have fun planting and harvesting cloth veggies and playing with wooden blocks that teach about the year’s growing seasons and the garden’s beneficial bugs.

The exhibit also raises important social and political questions that can serve as jumping-off points for conversation and school projects. One section describes obstacles to urban gardening presented by lead in the soil and the high cost of land; it also spotlights the need for healthy produce to be sold at corner grocery stores. The museum’s deputy director Kelly McKinley says that Take Root will be part of the museum’s school program, which welcomes about 40,000 children each year.

McKinley adds that Take Root highlights gardening and urban farming as “acts of social justice, bringing fresh food into neighborhoods that are food deserts.” The exhibit also emphasizes the social nature of urban agriculture and the many ways it builds community connection. Visitors are encouraged to join in the movement and become growers themselves.

—Rachel Trachten

Take Root is on display through January 13, 2019.

Photos courtesy of Oakland Museum of California.

Edible East Bay’s associate editor Rachel Trachten writes about food, cooking, and gardens as tools for education and social change. She takes time out from magazine work for choral singing. View her stories at and get in touch at rachel(at)

Above: Museum visitors can get an up-close look at beneficial garden bugs and watch a video of garden-protecting insects in action. Below (in descending order): Rodney Spencer, executive director of City Slicker Farms, visiting with the chickens. Sprouting collards at West Oakland’s City Slicker Farms. Left: Kelly Carlisle, founder and executive director of Acta Non Verba, with crops from the farm. Right: New Roots Program Manager Zack Reidman. Watering at New Roots Farm, where former refugees grow food and share farming know-how with students.