Victory Gardens Dig in for the Long Haul

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It’s safe to assume that when the Oakland PD raided Frank H. Ogawa Plaza on October 25, few people were thinking about vegetable destruction. Call it collateral damage: A group of Occupiers and community allies had been working to create edible gardens at the encampment, all of which were destroyed.

Since then, Occupy Oakland gardeners have redoubled their efforts, planting hardy greens like kale, Swiss chard, and a variety of lettuces in city planters and raised tables around the periphery of the plaza. Starter plants have also been pouring in from around the East Bay, including herbs, peppers, peas, and even strawberries (winter weather be damned).

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Planting edible crops takes a long view of the camp’s presence at City Hall. Like generating electricity or digging a well, it’s a move toward building a lasting infrastructure. Though it may be more symbolic than pragmatic (the plaza obviously has far too little land to become a self-sustaining food producer), I love that there’s room for gardeners under Occupy Oakland’s big tent.

On Saturday morning, I met a volunteer named Khalid Shakur while he replanted some chili peppers. Shakur, who has been camping at the plaza for a couple weeks, believes the gardening efforts send an important message. “We’re going to be here long enough to harvest all of this,” he said. “Don’t expect us to disappear.”

Bobby Valentine
  • Bobby Valentine
Bobby Valentine is a wild-eyed young man who has been coordinating all of the camp’s gardening. He acknowledges the fragility of his efforts, as evidenced by the destruction of the camp’s raised planter beds. Volunteers show up sporadically, donated supplies are sometimes insensible (“Why would they give us strawberries right before winter?”), and Valentine was down to his last shovel after one got stolen earlier this week. Still, he sees much to strive for.

“We need to show that it’s possible to produce our own food here,” he said. “I’m trying to make connections so we can reclaim some abandoned lots in the spring, but for now, we’re making it work with what we’ve got.”

While we talked, a red pickup truck arrived with a bunch of donated shovels and an old wheelbarrow. The driver, Nora Schourd of Ashby Community Gardens, looked like everyone’s favorite Berkeley grandmother. “There’s space at Occupy Oakland for everyone to do what they know best,” she said.

If you want to help, the Occupy gardeners could still use soil, gloves, shovels, planters, starter plants (think winter crops), wood, and hardware. Home base is on the outer edge of the 14th Street side of the plaza. Look for mounds of soil.

Comments? Tips? Get in touch at Jesse.Hirsch@EastBayExpress.com, or follow me on Twitter @Jesse_Hirsch.

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