The mission of Nutiva Foundation is to nurture people and planet by supporting the advancement of healthy communities and ecologically sustainable agriculture. This is part of a series where we get to know the Foundation’s grantees and why they like to get their hands dirty growing food and community.
What inspired you to start Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project?
In 2011, as a returning African-American Navy veteran, I wished to apply my experience as a Master Gardener Trainee to my next career. After starting a garden with my daughter, I read several local articles on the severe socioeconomic and health disparities in East Oakland, my childhood home. I read comments saying that not everyone needs to go to college and how we’ll always need janitors, but only so many nuclear physicists.
The articles, made me recall growing up in East Oakland and asking myself at the time is this what my life is going to be like? What I was seeing was scary, not hopeful. It seemed like chaos. My parents transferred me to Berkeley schools in the 3rd grade so I could access more opportunities. I was a champion reader in East Oakland, but labeled a remedial student in Berkeley. Ten miles never made such a big and upsetting difference.
All these memories started to swirl around as well as my strong affinity to farming as I talked to neighbors, advocates, friends and family. An idea was born and with tremendous local support, I started a farm in a food desert, making fresh food, outdoor education, and a safe space available to local youth and their families.
What does Acta Non Verba mean and what does your organization do?
Acta Non Verba means deeds, not words, and it is our organizational mantra. It’s wasn’t enough to talk about these disparities – I wanted to work with our community to do something about it.
Our mission is to elevate life in East Oakland through sustainable urban farming and environmental stewardship. Our quarter-acre farm, located in Tassafaronga Park, is planned, planted, and harvested by youth in grades K-8 from the surrounding, low-income African-American, Latino, and Middle Eastern populations in East Oakland. This densely populated urban area suffers from a high crime rate, pollution, and blight. Imagine a child who has never seen carrots come out of the ground, never known that peas grow in pod, or screams in fright if a worm pokes its head out of the soil. This is the reality of many of the children (and adults) with whom we work.
The farm’s produce is offered to area residents at below-market rates, and the proceeds are placed into individual savings accounts to support participants’ higher education. Since 2010, we have inspired over 3,000 local, at-risk youth and families to focus on nutrition, sustainable living, and activities that promote wellness and improve the quality of life in the neighborhood through our farm and programming.
What is something very few people know about you?
My love of reading. I love all kinds of fiction, but my FAVORITE author is Stephen King. I love the lessons hidden in his stories.
Why do you love to farm?
Farming is like my job and my church. I feel more connected to humanity and spiritually cleansed when I grow things.
When was the moment you were doing the right thing for your community?
Every time a child comes to the farm and asks for sugar peas. Or when they are playing in the neighborhood and yell, “Hi Ms. Kelly!” But mostly when parents come to me and thank me for the programs that we have for their kids. It lets me know that there is indeed a need for this work within our community.
How can people get involved with Acta Non Verba?
The first Saturday of every month, Acta Non Verba hosts a Farm Work Day open to any and all volunteers from 12-4PM at Tassafaronga Farm (83rd Ave and E Street, Oakland, CA 94621). During that time, we need help weeding, planting, harvesting, and pruning. We provide lessons on sustainable agriculture and growing produce in East Oakland as well as light refreshments. Come get your hands dirty, feel the sun on your face, and help us maintain this small farm. If any of your associates are interested in volunteering, please contact Amani Ali at 510.878.7235 for more information.
What’s your favorite winter (and Nutiva inspired) recipe?
“Deep Winter Greens”
1 tablespoon Nutiva Organic Virgin Coconut Oil
1 clove of garlic
1/4 red onion
1 cup chopped collard greens (grown on our Tassafaronga Farm)
In a sauce pan, sauté the garlic and red onion and coconut oil for 2 minutes. Then add the chopped collard green. Let it simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Salt and pepper as needed.