By Tracey Taylor and Emile Raguso
There’s a reason Fruitvale is called Fruitvale. Fruit orchards, largely apricot and cherry, dominated the area in the late 19th century. Now, a new urban homesteading shop, Pollinate Farm & Garden, hopes the East Oakland neighborhood might tap into its historical roots, take advantage of the area’s rich, loamy soil, and grow things more.
Pollinate’s owners, Yolanda Burrell and Birgitt Evans, say the store aims to provide farm and garden supplies to the urban DIY food community. They describe Pollinate as a “general store with a twist” in that many of the items it sells are not readily available in brick-and-mortar stores.
Although it only opened its doors last month — and its grand opening is scheduled for the weekend of May 4-5 — the store has already been warmly received, said Evans.
“We’ve had people almost in tears,” she said on a recent weekday. “There are a lot of households locally with edible gardens, keeping bees and chickens, and they tell us they thrilled to see us.”
It probably helps that the building the pair have taken over, at 2727 Fruitvale Ave., on the corner of Lynde Street, was for a long time vacant. Before that it was a community center, a vintage clothes shop and a carpet and linoleum store.
The spacious, light and freshly-painted space now offers all manner of tools for the urban homesteader, including: livestock feeds; beekeeping supplies; vegetable seeds and plants; organic fertilizers; garden tools and supplies; irrigation supplies; canning, fermenting and food preservation equipment; gifts and books. There’s a ‘book corner’ where customers can browse, and buy, books, and a roll-up door at the back that opens to reveal a large yard which already has an active beehive, tomato plants and a mushroom patch.
The store is planning to offer a speaker series, hands-on DIY workshops and a community meeting and learning space.
Burrell and Evans describe themselves as “urban farmers with decades of experience both producing and preserving food and in teaching others these skills.”
Evans is an Alameda County master gardener who has served on the group’s advisory board since 2000. As part of her work, she has developed educational materials and presented classes on many topics related to food production, such as seed starting, garden planning and integrated pest management. Evans has also served on the board of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society and was a founding board member and treasurer for BikeAlameda. She co-owned the Alameda Soap Company, which made and sold artisan soaps from 1999 to 2004.
Burrell has worked in retail and sales management, and education and information technology. Her efforts in the Bay Area include volunteering on projects concerning youth, food and community-based agriculture. She is a member of the Alameda County Beekeepers Association, Alameda Backyard Growers, East Bay Urban Agriculture Alliance, and the Montclair (Oakland) 4H Club: “An avid do-it-yourselfer, Yolanda enjoys creating handmade environments with found and reclaimed resources. She is at home at her own Oakland homestead laboratory, Kosodate Farm, where she and her family keep chickens, bees, and learn about permaculture principles on their large urban lot, growing much of their own food.”
The shop plans to celebrate its grand opening May 4-5 with a range of talks, book readings, and presentations about everything from backyard chickens to tool sharpening and a plant clinic.
Classes coming up in the next few months include $15-20 sessions on container gardening, irrigation and how to make your own compost. Learn more here.