By Paul Rockwell
I first met Kelly Carlisle at the Acta Non Verba Youth Farm in East Oakland. The quarter-acre garden is located in Tassafarango Park at 83rd Avenue and E Street.
As I ambled along rows of chard and green edibles, I saw Kelly showing a group of kids how to pull up weeds without disturbing seedlings.
Only weeks later did I learn that President Obama honored Kelly’s work at a state dinner at the White House: “Thanks to Kelly,” he told the dinner guests, “these boys and girls are not only learning the value of hard work at an early age, they’re changing how they think about themselves and opening their minds to what’s possible in their lives.”
Acta Non Verba is thriving. The children of East Oakland, a jurisdiction officially defined as a “food desert” by the government, are planting, harvesting, and selling their own farm produce.
The proceeds go into savings accounts to pay for their education. The food is fresh and healthy, grown without chemicals or pesticides, consumed close to where it is produced.
Making compost, learning about seasons, building a greenhouse, managing a farm stand—community farming empowers children to overcome food inequities in Oakland.
Kelly is a mother, and her rapport with kids is infectious. “Most kids,” she often tells visitors at the farm, “think food comes from the grocery store…But the excitement of kids seeing seeds turn into fruit is magical for them. They go wild.”
It’s the mission of Acta Non Verba to cultivate an appreciation of nature’s gifts, to uplift youth through the joy and wonder of growing food.
While my first conversation with Kelly Carlisle was brief, I left Tassafarango Park feeling optimistic about the future.
Kelly is a key organizer of the upcoming “Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference,” to be held at Laney College in Oakland, Oct. 16-18.
For more information, go to blackurbangrowers.org