It started with a lemon tree. Kelly Carlisle didn’t grow up gardening. She didn’t have a windowsill herb garden. She knew about farming, of course, but in her mind there was a disconnect: food just sort of showed up at the grocery store. She worked a corporate job, wearing fancy clothes and heels to work. But she had gotten laid off during the recession, and one day a few years ago, she ended up at a Bay Area nursery with her daughter. They bought a lemon tree, and as it slowly started to flourish, so did Carlisle’s interest in gardening.
Around the same time the, she found herself reading more and more articles about Oakland, where she spent her childhood: about its status as one of the country’s most dangerous cities, the high rate of teen prostitution and dismal school dropout statistics. She wanted to do something that combined a concrete way to help Oakland’s kids with her newfound love of gardening. So in 2010, she started Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project (ANV), a nonprofit that introduces low-income East Oakland children to the joys of gardening while contributing financially to their future. Local children farm a small plot at Tassafaronga Recreation Center and sell the produce through farmers markets and a CSA. All the proceeds go into individual savings accounts for each child, earmarked for their education. There’s also an eight week summer camp, camping and field trips, and community farm days. Since their founding, they've served over three thousand local kids.
“For generations, our communities have been told that farming is not for us,” Carlisle said. “When we talk to our kids about what a farmer looks like and where farmers live, it’s very abstract. Nobody knows a farmer, it’s all what they’ve seen on TV. There are no 4-H clubs in the flatlands.”
The financial aspect of the program was inspired by San Francisco’s San Francisco Kindergarten to College Program, where every kindergartner entering a public school is given a savings account with $50, with incentives for families that regularly contribute. (Research has shown that children are more likely to attend college if there’s money set aside for it).
But the money is just part of the way Acta Non Verba (Latin phrase meaning: actions not words) prepares children for the future. Most of the kids Carlisle works with want to be athletes, musicians, actresses--or cops, so they can carry a gun. The program allows them to explore the sprawling agricultural industry, to show them a field and a future that could be theirs.