“Oakland’s Acta Non Verba brings farm to table”

By Isaac Smith, Oakland North

Link to original article

As families prepare for a day of food and thankfulness, one Oakland resident is grateful for the simple act of harvest on a small community farm.

Amid glowing rows of rainbow chard and plump purple eggplants, Kelly Carlisle, founder of Acta Non Verba Farm, is celebrating her sixth community harvest. The farm, which sits on a quarter acre of Tassafaronga Park leased from Oakland’s Parks and Recreation Department, offers local children a safe outdoor space to learn where food comes from and to earn a profit from its neighborhood produce stand.

Carlisle, a military veteran, surveys the meticulously arranged groups of raised planting beds. While she appreciates the orderliness of the art of farming, it is the magic of watching a seed transform into food that captivates her. “Seeds are amazing,” she said. “Just keep me protected, keep the bugs away, and I can do my thing.”

After six and a half years in the Navy, Carlisle, now age 36, came back home to Oakland concerned about the under-resourced condition of the schools. Long interested in farming, she set on the idea of an after-school program that would give kids a chance to get outside and see nature at work. Acta Non Verba—actions not words—is her response.

Acta Non Verba is a 501c3 non-profit operating under the umbrella group Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs. The farm is supported by major funders including the California Endowment, the Rose Foundation and the San Francisco Foundation, plus a number of small local donors.

Much of Carlisle’s philosophy of farming is rooted in her time in the Navy, where discipline and organization are prized. “That’s why farming is so great. You’re put on a regimen. You know you have to water on these days and you know to plant on these days. You know that in order for this to happen, you have to do that. It’s a good alternative to being in the military,” she said.

As a child, Carlisle was amazed to find that food comes from plants. She discovered that lemons grew on trees and her “mind was blown.” After successfully growing three small lemons, she was hooked. “I fell in love with it. I mean, it’s really magic. You put a seed in there and you get food out,” she said. “The idea that one could grow food to sustain their family was just, like, this was being on the side of angels.”

The farm was founded by Carlisle in 2010. After numerous meetings with community leaders that only led to more meetings and more talking, she said she decided to make things happen on her own. “I’m about changing the life expectancy and health outcomes for those in the area by direct servicing—by actually doing something, not just talking about it,” she said.

Based on a model of the garden-as-classroom, the farm teaches children how to grow produce and run a market stand. All of the profits go directly into the kids’ savings accounts.

As many as 70 kids per day attend the farm’s summer camps and over 300 of the neighborhood youth come to its afterschool programs. The youngest children are tasked with weeding and planting while the older kids learn to build greenhouses and take on the responsibility of managing the produce stand. “They’re like little baby farmers. They give the tours and show their parents which flowers are edible and which aren’t, and why we make compost and why that’s important,” she said.

After her very first harvest, she said people from the community started asking her about specific vegetables. She hadn’t understood the cultural relevance of food until then. “Folks started coming around asking me if I had collard greens: ‘Why don’t you have collard greens? It’s about to be Thanksgiving!’”

Carlisle said the farm allows for a learning experience not found in schools and offers a path toward more sustainable and healthy eating practices in a community where that can be difficult.

Pockets of East Oakland have been designated by the United States Department of Agriculture as “food deserts,” areas where access to fresh fruit and vegetables and other nutritious foods is limited, especially for those without cars. The only alternatives for many residents are convenience stores that offer high-calorie and high-fat foods. Carlisle said she hopes to show kids the importance of whole foods and “to make sure they come up conscious about what they’re eating and what they’re putting in their bodies.”

This is an important lesson for kids not often aware of the importance of healthful eating. A 2012 study by researchers at UC Los Angeles found that 42 percent of Oakland children were overweight or obese in 2010.

The City of Oakland is attempting to remedy this through a series of initiatives. The city has set a goal of producing 30 percent of its food needs from within the city. Also, as of 2014, the city has 16 community gardens and 23 gardening sites run by young people. A 2010 survey found 39 non-profits working on food access.

“For a while there, it was all about being in a food desert,” Carlisle said. “But in reality, communities of color have always been solution-oriented, from the Black Panthers’ free food programs to mothers making sandwiches to sell at the railroad cars. We’ve always been solution-oriented, but it’s just now the national story has changed.”

ANV’S 2011-2015 In Review Report Is Here!

Dear ANV Supporter,

2015 was an AMAZING year! For a summary of our accomplishments to date, stop by our offices to pick up a copy of our newly published report, 2011-2015 in Review. You can also download the report here. This piece details the highlights of our growing organization, including:

  • Executive Director Kelly Carlisle honored by President Barack Obama, Assemblymember Rob Bonta, ABC 7, and the Super Bowl 50 Fund.
  • Awarded contract to install seven school and community farms across Alameda County in 2015-2016
  • Started accepting EBT payments for CSAs and produce with support from Phat Beets Produce
  • Started a local Food Pantry with partner Project Access in Tassafaronga Village
  • Hosted 30+ schools and non-profits to learn about farming and consulted on 20+ local gardens.

In 2016, ANV aims to further prove our commitment to our communities by providing all ages with opportunities to learn, grow, and be present as well as advocating for a more just and equitable food system, education system, and by instilling hope and excitement in the lives of our youth. We want to expand our camps to ensure more than 300 youth have access to enriching, healthy, safe, educational, and FUN activities during school breaks. But we can’t do all of this without YOUR SUPPORT!

So download our 2011-2015 In Review Report today, sign up for our newsletter, volunteer on the farm or at the camps, and donate and help us reach our campaign goal of $25,000! Together, we can grow a brighter future for youth and their families in East Oakland one tomato, book, and jumping jack at a time!

ANV Featured at 2015 Farm To Fork SF Expo!

When: Saturday, August 29, 2015, 2PM to 6PM
Where: The Village San Francisco, 969 Market Street, San Francisco, CA

Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project will be a featured exhibitor at this weekend’s free Farm To Fork Expo in San Francisco, CA. Enjoy culinary, intellectual, and musical treats and show your support for ANV!

Presented by The Village Impacts, the new nonprofit arm of The Village, Farm To Fork SF is gathering advocates and lovers of food in an effort to raise awareness around sustainability issues. The event will showcase the best farms, artisan food producers, breweries, cideries, distilleries and wineries in the Bay Area. Executive Director Kelly Carlisle will join a panel discussion of thought-leaders in the field of food justice. Buy your tickets and use code F2FSF for 30% off your ticket)!

To cap off the event, Farm To Fork SF will host a VIP Afterparty featuring a DJ set by the legendary Erykah Badu AKA Lo Down Loretta Brown, a musical performance by stic.man of the influential hip hop group, Dead Prez, thirst-quenching drink specials, and more! Click here to buy tickets to the VIP afterparty.

Click here to visit the Farm To Fork website!

Camp ANV Spotlight: Connecting to Ancestors with Afia Walking Tree

In the shade-dappled meeting circle of Acta Non Verba’s community garden, a group of thirty children sit, focused intently on a story being told by world-renowned percussionist Afia Walking Tree. The tall, stately woman tells the tale of spirit of the Kakilambe, a beloved protector and messenger to the Baga people of West Africa.

It’s all part of a very special African drumming class held at Camp ANV this Summer, combining music and story-telling, respect for the self, the earth, and spirituality. Afia Walking Tree commands the children’s attention with her expressive voice, movements, and drums. Weaving together stories and songs from ancient Africa as well as her native Jamaica, she connects the children to our Ancestors and a time long ago when Spirit and daily life intertwined.


“The goal,” Walking Tree reveals, “is to integrate African culture into this urban environment and reconnect the children — not just to planting — but to our ancestors, and that when they planted, they did it in a way that was ritualistic. So we’re always doing spiritual things together, as part of the bigger picture.”

“We’re Building Reconnective Tissue Here.”

Walking Tree holds her class outside in ANV’s vibrant garden, rather than in a typical classroom setting, so that campers may integrate musical, cultural, gardening, and even spiritual experiences. “We specifically had the drumming out here,” she explains, “because then they’re hearing it all day, for three hours nonstop.  Whether they’re in the class or not, they’re getting it. It’s an infusion that you can’t see, but it’s felt. We’re building reconnective tissue here—that’s how I feel. The ritual of coming every day and doing the same thing, three days a week, has had its impact.”

Drumming, planting, gardening, and harvesting all combined to support ancestral connections. “Some of the kids would be planting with (ANV gardening teacher) Ms. Kana,” Walker Tree continues, “and I would be drumming and singing to some of the children, and there were moments where we would intersect. So there’s a holistic picture of how I might be able to integrate my love of the earth, my love of myself, my love of music, in one setting. It’s not disconnected. As African people, we weren’t disconnected from the plants, from the food, from the music, from the healing.”


Camper Jonathan, aged 10, loves everything about his drumming class.  “I’m very good at it. I like the drumming and the funny part when she put on the mask and acted like the spirit (Kakilambe).”

If drumming isn’t a camper’s cup of tea, Walker Tree finds ways to engage them in the learning as well, including costumes and interesting props. “Sometimes I bring books, I bring feathers. I brought a turtle shell even once and that became the satellite that day. I had the wing today, and we were talking about it and I was cleansing them all. I’m bringing it in but in a magical way, not in a scary way. So our spirituality gets normalized. When are we going to normalize our spirituality?”

Children Discover African Peoples’ Strong Culture

“What I’IMG_1803m doing here,” Walker Tree reveals, “I call recalibrating. There’s an activating of these ancient stories for the children—just pieces for them to understand that African people were free at one point and we had a strong culture.”

By Summer’s end, it’s evident that the children have incorporated much of Walker Tree’s teachings. At Camp ANV’s graduation ceremony, camper Tariyah, aged 8, shares with parents the history of Africans known as the Maroon people, who long ago escaped British enslavement in Jamaica.  “They got to the top of this mountain” Tariyah recounts, “and the British people couldn’t find their way through. (They) said that the African people can have the mountain because the British people didn’t know their way up there.”


After sharing the story of the Maroon people with the audience, Tariyah and the rest of the drumming students perform “Maroon Gone,” a beautiful piece which tells the tale of a cooking pot left untended. The campers were fascinated by the story of the Maroon people, who survived and thrive in Jamaica to this day. The song “Maroon Gone,” with its memorable percussion and lyrics, quickly became one of the children’s favorites.

About Afia Walking Tree

Afia Walking Tree, M.Ed, is an internationally acclaimed percussionist and visionary facilitator.  Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, she is currently based in the California Bay Area. Walking Tree’s drumsongs are prayers of gratitude for the generosity of spirit. Her lyrics are evolutionary teachings, addressing present day issues of social justice, freedom, healing and self-love.

Walking Tree began her drumming studies in her tiny Harlem apartment share in 1990 listening to the music of Edwina Lee Tyler and Babatunde Olatunji. She immersed herself in the study of African Diasporic drum, dance, culture, and shamanism in West Africa (Guinea/Ghana), Canada, Alaska, Hawaii, Philippines, Bali, Thailand, London, and the US.  She has shared the stage with activists and artists such as: Alice Walker, Jennifer Berezan, Patti Cathart (of Tuck & Patti), Olympia Dukakis, Gloria Steinem, Chief Wilma Mankiller, and countless others.


Walking Tree’s wildness inspires authentic edutainment performances, lectures, garden and landscape design and life coaching.  She currently serves as adjunct professor at Holy Names University, California Institute for Integral Studies, Sophia University, and Edna Manley College for the Performing Arts in Jamaica.

Her first solo CD, Soul Affirmationz, has sold over 2,000 copies and is available for sale at afiawalkingtree.com. Join her upcoming DRUM MOBILE Movement—Eco-Resiliency Empowahment through the Drumming Arts, Earth Stewardship, Nutrition for People of Color, Women, Children, Communities! #drummobile

About Camp ANV

Camp ANV is run jointly by Acta Non Verba and Oakland Parks and Recreation. The program provides quality, educational enrichment in an urban farm setting to low-income East Oakland youth during summer and school breaks, year-round. Camp ANV takes place at Acta Non Verba, located at 1001 83rd Avenue, Oakland, CA, United States. For more information call (510)972-FARM (3276) or email info@anvfarm.org

Camp ANV Spotlight: Talking Sticks with Sifu Bill Owens

IMG_1259If, one sunny Summer afternoon, you find yourself near Acta Non Verba youth urban farm, you may hear the sound of sticks clacking together, echoing rhythmically throughout the neighborhood. Bay Area martial arts legends Sifu Bill and Simo Mary Owens are sharing their unique and beautiful martial arts form known as Kusema Vijiti, also called the Talking Sticks, with our campers.

Working in unison with sturdy, short sticks in each hand, the students’ movements are fluid and rhythmic like dancers, yet close observation of each pose reveals the form’s true defensive nature.

Martial Arts as an Art Form

“As a martial arts instructor, you can get tired of teaching aggression,” Sifu Bill reveals. “I want to prepare kids to defend themselves—to ‘go crazy’ if they need to—but I also want them to stay sweet. The Talking Sticks is a martial arts form that allows me to teach self defense, while remaining in the realm of beauty.IMG_1244

“I teach martial arts without the aggression, and more as an art form. I keep it very jovial, rhythmic, musical, and fun. But what you are seeing is a series of blocks, strikes, deflections, and parrying thrusts offensively and defensively. You can take the moves and in an instant, use them in a fight.”

Kusema Vijiti (The Talking Sticks) is a rhythmic stick art form, born out of martial movements, African, and African-American cultural rhythms and sensibility. Sifu Bill Owens and his wife Simo Mary Owens developed this unique form right here in Oakland over 35 years ago. They established the Kusema Vijiti Institute, and have developed a grading system that ranks and gives credibility to its practitioners by levels according to the length of time of study and the knowledge gained.

IMG_1254“Kusema Vijiti develops rhythm, coordination, focus, balance, and timing,” Sifu Bill explains. “Because it is based on a written language of symbols it also promotes reading.” Campers at the day’s instruction quickly spoke up, saying they enjoy the practice, and recognize its combined elements of defense, art, and music.

The class will continue throughout the remainder of Camp ANV 2015, and takes place every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 4:00 to 5:00pm. Parents interested in Kusema Vijiti should contact Sifu Bill Owens or Simo Mary Owens at the Kusema Vijiti Institute in East Oakland (contact information below).

Martial Arts Champions Sifu Bill and Simo Mary Owens

SifuSimoSifu Bill Owens (Sifu meaning Chief Instructor) began his training in 1966 and was awarded his Grand Mastership in 2009. During his years of competition he won over 170 trophies, was rated 5th in the world and #1 in Region One for three consecutive years.*

Sifu Bill was one of ten martial artists invited by the Chinese Wushu Association of Beijing, China to attend the 1985 International Chinese Wushu Championships as a United States martial arts representative. He is presently the Vice President of the Kusema Vijiti Institute and continues to teach his System Blossom Fist at Cascos Martial Art Academy in Oakland.

IMG_1043Simo Mary Owens (Simo meaning wife of the instructor if she practices martial arts) began training in the martial arts under Sifu Bill Owens in 1971. Traveling the tournament circuit, she became the #1-rated fighter in the United States for two consecutive years and #1 in Region One for five years, all while attending school to obtain her nursing degree.

Simo Mary married Sifu Bill and joined him in running Cascos Martial Art Academy. Besides being a business partner at the Academy, Simo Mary specializes in teaching the children’s classes. In addition to her more than 35 years of training in Blossom Fist she has expanded her martial arts training to include Filipino Stick Fighting, Brazilian Capoeira, and Kusema Vijiti (The Talking Sticks). Simo Mary continues to teach and train with her husband Sifu Bill Owens at Cascos Martial Art Academy.

About Kusema Vijiti (The Talking Sticks)

The Kusema Vijiti Institute is located at 7421 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, CA 94605. For more information, call (510)638-9990 or email sifubill@yahoo.com.

About Camp ANV

Camp ANV is run jointly by Acta Non Verba and Oakland Parks and Recreation. The program provides quality, educational enrichment in an urban farm setting to low-income East Oakland youth during summer and school breaks, year-round. Camp ANV takes place at Acta Non Verba, located at 1001 83rd Avenue, Oakland, CA, United States. For more information call (510)972-FARM (3276) or email info@anvfarm.org

*Martial arts ratings awarded by martial arts industry and enthusiast publications.

ANV Director to Speak at Historic #BlackLivesMatter Event

This weekend, our own Kelly Carlisle, Executive Director of Acta Non Verba, will join hundreds of Black freedom fighters convening from around the country at the inaugural Movement for Black Lives Convening in Cleveland, Ohio. Ms. Kelly will host a workshop at the event titled “Farming = Healing: How Farming Saved My Life and Made Me Aware of My Blackness.”

This historic event comes at a pivotal time for the growing movement for Black lives in the United States. Black people are facing unabated police violence, increasing criminalization, a failed economic system, a broken education system and the loss of our communities to gentrification and development.

How Farming Deepens Activism—and Saves Lives

Ms. Kelly’s workshop, titled “Farming = Healing: How Farming Saved My Life & Made Me Aware of My Blackness,” will illustrate the many ways that farming—growing food, flowers, herbs and ornamentals—can transform lives.

The workshop will explore the struggles and triumphs of ordinary people who have found redemption in the soil—whose hands are both dirty and clean—and who can find peace in the process of growing and nurturing plants.

‘Non-agrarian’ participants will gain insight into how farming actually helps individuals navigate the seemingly endless stream of hateful acts perpetrated against Black people, deepens activism, and renews feelings of hope, purpose, and joy.

“I see parallels between how we farm and how we resist racism in our society,” Ms. Kelly reveals. “Farming made me a better mother, and a better activist. Farming has heightened my awareness of blackness in various spaces as a Black, Woman, Urban Farmer, and Military Veteran.”

Convergence Heralds the Vitality of the Movement

Many have taken to the streets in response to this ongoing state of emergency. During the past year, Black people from across the country have led a wave of resistance that has spread around the world. A new crop of freedom fighters has emerged and urgent desire for Black victory has been rekindled in the hearts of seasoned activists.

Now, after months of intense action, Black people need space to begin the creation of a collective mission that matches the intensity, scale, urgency, and promise of the moment. This convening presents an opportunity to reflect on our histories of struggle, build a sense of fellowship that transcends geographical boundaries, and begin to heal from the many traumas we face. Whether through topical trainings, engaging conversations or just kicking back with each other— we will strengthen a budding community that is diverse in voices, origin, perspective and strategy.

Open, and created by many voices, The Movement for Black Lives Convening will be a space to realize that promise fully on our terms as Black people. We invite all Black people invested in this movement to join the convening to shape our present and chart our future.

Entries Due August 1, 2015 for 2nd Annual Future Peace NOW Art Contest

ANV's 2nd Annual Art Contest!! Entries Due August 1st!

Acta Non Verba is looking for your masterpiece for our Second Annual Youth Art Contest: “Future Peace Now”!

The contest is open to Oakland Youth grades K-12. Youths are encouraged to create original artworks that speak to “What Brings Peace?” The artworks could be created individually or in a group, classroom, or community setting.


  • All submissions will be published on the Future Peace Now website.
  • Selected artworks will be featured in an art exhibition during the Black Farmers Conference October 16th – 18th.
  • 10 artworks will be recreated as street banners and hung on International Boulevard between 80th – 85th Avenue from September – November 2015.
  • The artist will also receive a family dinner provided by Acta Non Verba.

Submission are open to all 2D mediums including illustration, poetry, photography, graphic design, etc.

All submissions must include :

  • Title of Piece
  • Artist Name
  • Age
  • Grade
  • School / Community Organization / Church.

Artwork should be submitted digitally to sasha.kelley@anvfarm.org

Or mailed to:
Acta Non Verba
Attn: Art Contest
1001 83rd Avenue, Mailbox #1
Oakland, CA 94621

For questions please call 415-368-3769.

All entries must be submitted by August 1, 2015!

ANV’s Kelly Carlisle Named “Vet of the Year”

When: Tuesday, July 28, 2015, 6PM-8PM
Where: Linden Street Brewery, Oakland, CA
In cooperation with a local literacy organization, please bring a new or gently used book for children.

RSVP to celebrate with us at the State of the 18th Assembly District Address and Awards Celebration!

Each year California Assemblymember Rob Bonta selects one exemplary veteran to honor as Veteran of the Year for the 18th Assembly District. This year, that honor went to Acta Non Verba’s own Kelly Carlisle.

You’re invited to celebrate at the District Address and Awards Celebration on Tuesday, July 28, 2015, from 6-8pm at the Linden Street Brewery in Oakland. This event is free but space is limited! Please call 510.286.1670 or register here to RSVP!

At last week’s ceremony in the state capitol, Kelly Carlisle was recognized for her service to the armed forces and the residents of District 18. Assemblymember Rob Bonta noted her admirable accomplishments as a leader in her community, state, and nation.

KellyOnDeck“It was an honor today to recognize Kelly Carlisle as the Veteran of the Year for the 18th Assembly District,” said Bonta, “Kelly continues her service to her country and community as the Founder and Executive Director of Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project, whose mission is to elevate life in the inner city by challenging oppressive dynamics and environments through urban farming. Thank you for your service and leadership, Kelly!”

Join us on Tuesday, July 28 as we celebrate this prestigious honor.

You knew Ms. Kelly is awesome as ANV’s executive director,  but did you know she’s also handy on the deck of an aircraft carrier?

Visit our donation page to contribute to Acta Non Verba’s work!

Volunteer and sponsorship opportunities are available. For more event information please contact ANV at Info@anvfarm.org or 510.972.3276 (FARM).

ANV’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Is Open NOW!

Acta Non Verba’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) allows city residents to have direct access to high quality, fresh produce grown ultra locally by our Kid Farmers. When you become a member of a CSA, you’re purchasing a “share” of vegetables from a regional farmer.


Weekly or bi-weekly, from June 17 until August 14, 2015, our farmers will deliver that share of produce to a convenient pick-up location at One Stop, 8400 International Boulevard, Oakland, CA 94621.
Our farmers can also deliver produce to your home for an additional fee.
ANV's Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) starts again on June 17, 2015!! Sign Up NOW!


CSA members pay for an entire season of produce upfront or on a week-to-week basis.

Shares usually include 5-7 types of vegetables, enough for a family of 2-4 people. Half shares for smaller households are available upon request.*

Click here to register for our CSA today!

*Adapted from http://www.justfood.org/csa

The 2015 National Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference

When: October 15 -18, 2015
Where: Laney College, 900 Fallon Street, Oakland, CA

What can present-day Black and Brown farmers and urban gardeners take from the lessons of our elders? And how can these lessons provide inspiration and know-how for future generations?

National Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference coming to Oakland! attendees explored issues of race, class, commerce, health, nutrition and growing and production techniques through panel discussions, workshops, cultural presentations and action plans.

Resources were exchanged. Ideas were pollinated. And Solutions were born.

Click here to access 2015 Workshop Proposal Guidelines.

You can also click here for the Guidelines and web form submission.