Known as The Ranch, this odd assortment of buildings and land came together under its current ownership in 1990. Seven buildings and a flock of sheds and shacks, there were some 17 different addresses. Covered with brambles and decades of neglect, some of these were impossible to find. Thus, we came to call it The Ranch, mostly for convenience. Fences between the buildings were taken down, debris was cleared and the land was freed to grow healthy and fertile.
Over time, The Ranch has grown into its name as the gardens expanded and bees and chickens came to live with us. We have reclaimed some 8000 square feet of land from misuse and neglect and now cultivate in what was once a dumping ground. 412 cubic yards of debris and riprap have been removed from what is now our kitchen garden where we grow lettuces and greens all year, tomatoes, beans, etc. seasonally.
We are fortunate in West Oakland to have a microclimate which makes for abundant crops most of the year. We get very little of the fog for which the Bay Area is famous. Because we are so very close to the Bay, we were 100 years ago, beach front property. As a consequence, the water table is very shallow. Fruit trees thrive in our locale, citrus trees flourish in West Oakland. See my marmalade recipe in the recipe section of the blog. It’s not difficult but takes time, fruit is abundant, we always get the jars back with a request for refill. And, it’s a fun thing to do with a group of people as there is lots of cutting.
The soil in which we grow is in itself an art project. It has been cultivated and amended for 22 years. Rice hulls, cocoa bean shells, worm casings, clover, fava beans and our very own compost have gone into building the very healthy soil in which we grow our fruits and vegetables. For several years, in the beginning, we were able to get “sludge” from the water district for use in our garden. This is no longer available but we have made annual use of a local horse stable. Our chickens also contribute to our very fertile growing beds. And no, no one has ever gotten sick from anything grown in our garden.
This is not a community of “intention”, there is no common belief system. There is however. much that is shared. A common appreciation for the communal garden, a genuine and consistent commitment to recycling and taking care of the land. We compost, we grown worms and work on these thing weekly…without much organized oversight, the chores get done. We have an 8 foot barbeque which gets used almost nightly when it’s not cold…another communal aspect…shared coals.
Located in a somewhat grim and gritty part of the inner City, close to San Francisco The Ranch resides in an area long troubled by blight and the consequences of political neglect. Spot zoning and the imposition of freeways have left their marks on what was once a vibrant and fertile part of Oakland. Trolley tracks which once carried people from homes to work have long been abandoned and remain unused. It’s always been a curiosity as to why these could not be recycled as interest in alternative transportation grows and more and more people choose public transportation, bicycles, or zipcars.
The Ranch is made up of nine buildings, most of which are rentals, housing young families, singles, couples, some older folks, some cranky and some not so cranky. It is an interesting and diverse population. The Ranch appeals to the more “outside the box” types. Uniformity, architectural or otherwise is not the standard here. However, of course, all rental agreements are governed by state and local laws and ordinances.
Of the some 30 (plus or minus) people who live at The Ranch, there are 5 households that do not have vehicles, preferring the bicycle. As we are very much “inner” and close to all major transportation, public and otherwise, alternatives to the automobile are very much viable. We are three blocks from the Bay Trail which someday will ring the San Francisco Bay…for now, it is a convenient connection to downtown Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville.
While The Ranch is a convenient and hospitable “city within a city” it is located in an area which suffers all the ills of modern American city life. Crime and drugs exist right outside our front gate. Our only substantial insulation from the ravages of violent crime and drugs is our good will. We participate in civic activities, smile and acknowledge the street people, allow the “urban miners” access to our used beer bottles, resist the temptation to purchase obviously stolen tools when offered, and maintain a clean, well lighted face on the street. Nevertheless, desperate people invade our space and take our garden tools, bicycle wheels, garden furniture and whatever else they can quickly abscond with for a quick sale on the street. Happily, we suffer only aggravation and frustration. And, over time, the aggravations and the frustrations are seriously outweighed by the pleasure we get from our adventures in the gardens.
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