By Rachel Trachten
It’s a little circuitous, but here’s a story of how the Golden State Warriors became part of a team of volunteers helping Yolanda Burrell of Pollinate Farm find new footing during the challenging summer of 2020.
It was during the chaotic month of July, 2020 that Burrell, co-founder of East Oakland’s Pollinate Farm & Garden, decided to shut down her beloved East Oakland garden supply shop. The closing was a blow to many locals, who had come to rely on the shop for seeds, garden tools, fertilizer, animal feed, beekeeping products, and DIY goods, along with Burrell’s sage advice. It was a community.
The good news has been that Burrell still offers garden assessment, design, and installation services plus coaching (on Zoom and in person), and the shop still operates as an online store. But the real change for Burrell was that leaving the brick-and-mortar retail opened up more time for farming, and she now has plenty of produce for the Farms to Grow CSA as well as for her booth at the Saturday Freedom Farmers’ Market in Oakland’s Temescal district.
Burrell had long grown food for her family, but the change let her maximize production at her organic family farm (aptly named Pollinate Farm) and at a second East Oakland site. She’s been excited about scaling up and joining the Farms to Grow CSA, a group that represents Black and underrepresented farmers and provides technical assistance and help with distribution of crops. “They work with me to provide labor and an outlet for the things I grow,” says Burrell.
Farms to Grow sends Burrell a steady stream of volunteers, which means she has a reliable workforce. “Many people want to give back to their community,” she says. “It’s a volunteer-run farm.”
Burrell is an enthusiastic educator, who is happy to help those who sign up for Pollinate’s workdays learn about soil, composting, irrigation, and direct sowing. She also gets volunteers involved in building projects like the construction of a hoop house. Kids are welcome and can feed the chickens and do some weeding. People come from as far away as Mill Valley and Pleasanton to participate.
So how did the Golden State Warriors become part of Burrell’s team? It was with a donation of four huge planting beds from the Chase Center that were suddenly unloved when the pandemic shut down the stadium last year. The beds were given to Farms to Grow Inc., which passed them on to Burrell. “We needed an army of volunteers,” she says. “The people from Chase Center brought a truck with the four beds and a forklift, and we needed about 20 volunteers to get them down my hill.”
Anyone interested in joining Burrell’s team can sign up to volunteer at farmstogrow.com. Information about her garden consulting services can be found at pollinatefarm.com. To buy Burrell’s organic produce, visit the Freedom Farmer’s Market at 4521 Telegraph Avenue in Oakland on Saturdays from 9am to 2pm through November 13.