Fruitvale Gets an Urban Farm Store

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When Birgitt Evans first started gardening thirty years ago, she had to purchase nearly everything — the seeds, the fertilizer, and equipment — from a mail-order catalog. You would think that things would be much easier now, in a day and age when a magazine called Modern Farmer is the most talked-about new publication and when entire schools are dedicated to the art and science of urban homesteading (including one based right here in the East Bay).

To a certain extent, they are. But according to Evans, an Alameda County Master Gardener, urban farmers in the Bay Area still have to go to six or seven different stores to get everything they need — and they still end up having to mail-order a few specialized items. So Evans and fellow DIY enthusiast (and chicken- and beekeeping expert) Yolanda Burrell decided to do something about it. Their new urban farm store, Pollinate (2727 Fruitvale Ave.), is designed to be a one-stop-shop for gardeners and animal husbandry practitioners of all different skill levels. Located in Oakland’s Fruitvale district, Pollinate launched in late March, but this weekend will be the store’s official grand opening.

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  • Jolynn Lacasse
“What we’re helping people to do is to grow and to raise food,” Evans explained. “It’s everything from planting the tomato seed to making the tomato sauce.”

According to Evans, Oakland is ripe for a dedicated urban farming store. She noted that in 2009, at the peak of the Great Recession, the gardening and food-preservation parts of the economy expanded while almost every other sector was contracting — a testament to a resurgent interest in the DIY lifestyle and the thriftiness that’s born of hard times.

Evans and Burrell picked Fruitvale because of the very specific requirements they had for the building: It had to be a large, wide-open space with room for a demonstration garden in back; it had to have a big roll-up door (for ease of loading customers’ trucks); and it had to have lots of parking. Beyond that, Evans said she’s been delighted to discover how many urban homesteaders live within a few blocks of the store — people with goats and bees and serious gardens.

So far, Evans said the store’s best-selling products are its chicken feeds (including organic and certified non-GMO options) and its wide selection of seeds, which line an entire wall of the store.

The store also carries a number of hard-to-find products that Evans said are basic to the success of a thriving garden, including seedling heat mats (which help young plants germinate) and a liquid all-purpose fertilizer that she hasn’t seen elsewhere. And Pollinate is quickly establishing itself as the East Bay’s go-to source for heritage breed chickens — about a dozen different varieties, including rare breeds like the Blue Breda and the Swedish Flower Hen.

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  • Jolynn Lacasse
Part of the owners’ vision is for the store to be a community gathering place and to provide a support system for local gardeners and homesteaders: “We are very connected with the food-growing community, and we really wanted to be a resource as much as anything,” Evans said.

This weekend’s grand opening will give customers a taste of this community-oriented, educational approach, as Pollinate will host workshops and special guest speakers all weekend long. Highlights include an introduction to raising backyard chickens; a book signing with author and (occasional Express) photographer Lori Eanes, whose new book, Backyard Roots, highlights 35 urban farms; and a talk on tool maintenance and sharpening by local blacksmith Grant Marcoux.

A complete schedule of the festivities is available on the store’s website.

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