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Urban farming gains popularity in the Bay Area

December 24, 2009 5:47:56 PM PST
Mix the troubled economy with the desire to eat healthy food - and what do you get? A backyard turned into a barnyard. Here's a look at the growing world of urban farming.

The farm is a small backyard behind a pink house.

It's across the street from an abandoned building, just a few blocks from Downtown Oakland.

There are rabbits living on the front deck, chickens patrolling the side yard and a big vegetable garden growing in the empty lot next door.

Novella Carpenter is the farmer.

"When I am ready to make dinner, I can just sort of come down here, pick stuff, eat whatever is in season or whatever I find. I just feel healthier doing that and the food tastes really good too," she said.

About half of the food Novella eats comes from her urban farm. She even shares with her neighbors.

Raymond Jackson has lived in the neighborhood for years and this is the first farm he's ever seen here.

"Wonderful, tremendous, it's just like a little piece of heaven," he said.

The goats seem to agree.

"They love to climb up and down these back stairs because it's sort of like a little mountainside for them," said Novella.

They are Nigerian Dwarf goats. They only grow to about two feet tall and they don't require fancy accommodations.

"They are kind of like cats, they are independent, but then they want you to scratch them and they want to sit on your lap and hang out too," said Novella.

And most importantly, they produce creamy delicious milk. Novella milks them in a little room behind her kitchen. A goat named Bebe produces about a quart a day.

The rules about urban farms vary widely from city to city. In Oakland, there are restrictions on the number of animals. Chickens are allowed, but no roosters.

Generally, Novella says you can raise what you want as long as neighbors don't complain.

"With the recession happening, more and more people are getting interested in urban farming," she said.

No one knows exactly how many urban farms there are in the Bay Area, but there is a growing market for supplies.

The BioFuel Oasis in Berkeley is doing a brisk business in hay bales, animal feed, salt licks -- things that used to be sold only in farm areas.

Sarah Barengo shops there for chicken feed.

"We've driven to Petaluma too get it, so it's definitely more convenient here," she said.

The store offers classes and advice on many farm related activities.

"A lot of people that are doing urban farming are also interested in canning, so we have mason jars and books on canning," said Jennifer Radtke from BioFuel Oasis

And there's a huge array of books on other aspects of farming. Novella has written one about how she turned her urban wasteland into a city farm.

She says people may try farming to save money, but it's a lot of work and you better love it or it won't last.

"When you are in front of a computer all day and you are just on the phone and you don't have any contact with the natural world, urban farming is a really great way to have contact with animals and insects and plant life, and it's a great way to feel alive," said Novella.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.

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