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Oakland Threatens to Shut Down Urban Gardener

Fight food repression.
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The city of Oakland, Calif., which is marked largely by blight and crime, has decided to go after a backyard gardener for growing and occasionally selling the fruits of her labor. According to a recent report in the San Francisco Chronicle (SFC), Oakland city officials are summoning Novella Carpenter to either pay a costly permit fee and penalties for providing locals with backyard produce items like Swiss chard without government approval, or face city sanctions.

The 4,500-square-foot plot of land on which Carpenter has been growing produce and raising some small animals is in a very rough part of Oakland. There are plenty of abandoned, graffiti-laden buildings, and empty plots of land — not to mention a severe lack of adequate grocery stores and food shops.

After allegedly squatting the land for several years, Carpenter finally decided to buy it several months ago for $30,000, and she now raises food for herself and her neighbors on it. Though she does sell some of it, the primary purpose of the lot is not to run a business. In fact, Carpenter has on numerous occasions allowed locals in need to come and pick food for their own use.

“When I started, I did it to feed myself,” explained Carpenter to SFC. “Then I realized that in Oakland, people are really hungry. So people in the neighborhood came and picked food.”

But Carpenter’s efforts to improve the conditions in her community by planting the garden and growing food recently met the heavy hand of government regulation. The SFC story explains that a city planner in Oakland’s building department recently became aware of Carpenter’s garden after allegedly receiving a complaint concerning some rabbits on her property. Though he has not issued a final report on the manner, the planner did state that because Carpenter sells some of her produce, she would be required to obtain a valid business permit.

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