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Kelly Carlisle served her country in the US Navy, then decided to serve her neighborhood in East Oakland.

I enlisted in the Navy in 2001, just before 9/11, and served as an Operations Specialist in the US Navy and Navy Reserve. When I returned to civilian life, I was distressed by news stories detailing the severe socio-economic and health conditions in my childhood home of East Oakland. Poverty, childhood obesity, and school dropout rates are abnormally high in this part of the city. As a mother and as someone who served her country, I decided I wanted to be part of the solution.

I didn’t immediately consider urban farming. But one day, I was cruising a nursery and came across a lemon tree that had two ripe lemons on it. My daughter, who was three at the time, was shocked! So I purchased the lemon tree and dared it to produce again. It did. I decided right there that I wanted to learn how to grow everything. I was meant to grow food, and growing food was going to transform my community.

I founded Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project with a group of neighbors in August 2010. A quarter-acre parcel of parkland in the heart of East Oakland was granted to us. 

Acta Non Verba means “Deeds, not Words”: we need to take action if we’re going to give our children a bright future. Our primary focus is at-risk youth in grades K-8 and their families. The students plant, cultivate, and harvest crops year round, and sell the produce to local residents. All proceeds are placed into individual savings accounts.

In 2011, we got a boost from the Farmer Veteran Coalition when I was named a Bon Appétit Good Food Fellow. The fellowship enabled us to purchase a heavy-duty pickup truck, which was an absolute necessity. We’ve moved into a new office space, hired several employees, and are in the process of recruiting a Board of Directors. I would like to see Oakland take advantage of the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act (AB 551) which authorizes tax incentives for landowners to put their land to agricultural use. 

In less than four years, we’ve cultivated dozens of crops, planted fruit trees, and built a beehive. We hold monthly garden parties and community dinners. Most importantly, we’ve engaged hundreds of schoolchildren, and many adults, in learning new skills and taking charge of their health. They are eating better, earning money, and experiencing the joy of being close to the Earth. We’re realizing our vision of holistic community revival—literally from the ground up. I’m proud to be a part of the Farmer Veteran Coalition. This is what I fought for.

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