Abeni Ramsey began growing food in her
backyard so that she could feed her kids better fare than the Top Ramen sold at the corner
store near her home in West Oakland, California, one of the nation’s largest
food deserts. To buy fresh fruits and vegetables, the young, single
mother had to travel to another town. But proximity was just the first hurdle.
Produce didn’t come cheap — especially compared to a five-dollar case of instant
While biking through Oakland, Ramsey
stumbled on City Slicker Farms, whose Backyard Garden Program gave her the
tools she needed to begin growing her own produce. Today, Ramsey, who studied agricultural development at UC Davis, feeds her kids
and her community, selling produce from her private farm, City Girl Farms, to
local restaurants. In April, she opened Township, a farm-to-table restaurant in
downtown Oakland, and relocated the City Girl Farmstore just next door.
Sierra magazine spoke to Ramsey about farming
for apartment-dwellers, the real reason people don’t eat their veggies, and the
need for diversity in the food movement.
How much of your own food do you grow?
A. Now that I live in East Oakland, I would
say I probably grow most of the vegetables that we eat and we happen to live in
produce-heavy household, so I would say maybe 30 percent. But all the produce
is from fruit trees that are around our house, so I grow a significant amount
of the fruit, and we collect significant amount of fruit. And we do have
chickens in the winter. Before, when I was living in West Oakland, I had oats
and chickens, as well as vegetables, and I didn‘t go to the grocery store. I
only went for the meat. Actually we produced a decent amount of food. It was 50
percent then, and now it’s about 30 percent.
Wait—you own chickens?
A. I do still have chickens. I had a
rooster at one point, but I had a neighbor who complained about it. I had to
get rid of it. And I had people complain about the goats, about the noise. It
was too much farm for people to take. It’s weird. It’s just this fear around
farm animals. We live in a neighborhood where dogs bark constantly. Almost
every house keeps a dog. That’s really interesting to me — how people have
become so unaccustomed to having livestock in the world. It’s not about noise
in general. It’s about them not being used to that particular noise.
You’re a single mother who’s managed to farm while raising kids, working, and
attending college. Are you human?