a couple of years ago my friends billy and novella visited detroit. they stayed with us and we toured them around the city. novella was on a book tour, but didn’t bother doing a reading or workshop – she had been told that detroit couldn’t really learn anything from her. while i was certain that detroit had plenty to learn from her – she was unwilling.
they were pretty insistent that we come and visit and stay with them in oakland – so when i found out the community food security coalition conference was going to be in oakland – i texted novella, and she said to get some plane tickets.
i went a day early so i could hang with novella and billy and check out some other garden projects (more on that later). novella was supposed to meet me via BART to help me navigate the public transit, but she decided to pick me up in her car – and who could blame her – she is eight months pregnant and the BART ride takes like 45 minutes each way, and don’t forget about the cost. i was pretty certain that novella’s vintage biodiesl bentz was the classiest ride i could get picked up in. i got a quick orientation of oakland and then tacos – mmmm tacos. novella lives in ghost town. the reason for its name are left to speculation, but it’s generally agreed that the term ghost riding came from this neighborhood, i kept myself planted firmly in her car. i liked ghost town as soon as we pulled up, this giant mural was painted on the building just across the street from her. the dj in the mural features the unmistakable logo of detroit techno label underground resistance. i felt at home already.
novella was having her last market of the season, and some oakland folks over to meet me that night, so after picking up some beer, we got to work in the garden harvesting and processing turnips, greens and radishes, i imagined myself to be her wwoofer. after finishing the harvest i poked around the garden – there was a lot of to find in a little space.some buddhist muscovy ducks. i found ripe figs to eat – some were a really over ripe, which the ducks happily gobbled up. artichokes growing in the parkway next to the sidewalk limes! and tons of them – it was november and rather than the season ending it was just changing, envy was starting rear its ugly head.pomegranates! holy shit! i was downright jealous! even if novella did say they never got sweet, sour pomegranates are a lot better than no pomegranates. it was quickly dawning on me why folks were so fond of living in the bay area. i was having trouble recovering from the shock of all of this, and trying to justify in my head my decision to live in detroit, but hearing the rent prices helped to put me back in the proper mind-set.
i kicked back with a beer, complemented with a fresh lime out of the garden, and welcomed the few visitor to the garden – it was a failure as a market, but we had plenty of food to eat, and i went up and whipped up some kale salad while billy made chicken and rice, waxing poetically about the qualities of peanut oil. other folks stopped by and i had the chance to catch up on the gossip of oakland’s urban agriculture scene. i enjoyed it very much.
the next morning i went to meet the chickens and goats that live in the backyard.i’m not sure which ones these are. i know one of them is bebe; the mama, but i don’t think she is in this picture. i forgot to ask novella if the reason for naming her bebe is so they would be bebe’s kids - this link may offend some folks, robin harris is pretty raw. novella’s land lord is a lot cooler than most – i don’t think i’d let my tenant have goats tearing up the back porch.
i loved hanging out at novella and billy’s house. novella is relaxed and easy to get along with, and billy might easily be one of the funniest people i know, and their idea of a good night out – eating sweets at the yemeni grocery store and watching al jazeera, picking lemons out of vacant lots matched well with ma and i.
novella has written the enjoyable book called farm city about billy and her adventures in oakland, and her friend willow and her have an urban farming how to book coming out in a month called the essential urban farmer. you can also check out her blog – ghost town farm. go check em out.