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Backyard roots: Book shares secrets of city farming

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Tara Hui harvests greens in her San Francisco backyard, one of 35 city farms featured in Backyard Roots. Photo: Lori Eanes

In her newly published book Backyard Roots, Lori Eanes profiles urban farmers. Thirty-five city farmers to be precise, in  northern California — including Oakland and Berkeley — Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, all of whom share their secrets to growing food, raising animals and building community in backyards, on rooftops and in parking strips.

Berkeleyside asked the San Francisco-based photographer to tell us about who she met and some of the most interesting stories she uncovered.

What led you to write this book?
It began as a personal photo project back in 2010. Urban farms were becoming popular and it was an excuse to meet the people who were getting goats and chickens and turning their city backyards into barnyards. Also, I think goats are funny.

Kitty Sharkey walks her Nigerian dwarf goats in her East Oakland neighborhood.
Kitty Sharkey walks her Nigerian dwarf goats in her East Oakland neighborhood. Photo: Lori Eanes

To what do you attribute the increasing number of urban gardens?
Each person I talked to is passionate about growing food, but each had different motivations. For example, artist Joan Englemeyer combined her love of teaching kids art with her backyard farm and launched City Art Farm in Seattle. In Vallejo, Rachel Hoff and Tom Ferguson challenged themselves to stop shopping at grocery stores for a year. In San Francisco, Brooke Budner and Caitlyn Galloway turned their backyard hobby into the first commercial farm within city limits, changing a law along the way.


I think everyone I met wanted to eat healthy, delicious food without supporting factory farms or the pesticide industry. Other than that, they were doing all kinds of different things from rooftop bee keeping to aquaponics and urban foraging, and everything in between.

Maya Blow and husband, Nevada Cross transplant seedlings during a spring rain.
Maya Blow and husband, Nevada Cross transplant seedlings during a spring rain in El Sobrante. Photo: Lori Eanes

What sorts of obstacles do they meet? (For example neighbors who don’t want animals and edible gardens in their communities?)
It’s interesting that not one person mentioned neighbors being a problem. The most common problems had to do with laws preventing people from doing what they wanted. But that didn’t stop these folks; they just went and changed the laws.

Is this a principally a West Coast phenomenon?
No, but it’s really popular out here. I think Portland must be the unofficial capital of urban farms. Backyard Roots covers farms along the west coast and it’s great because we all have the Pacific Ocean as our neighbor. I think it unifies our climate and our mindset.

Were there any stories that inspired you in particular?
I loved the epic saga of Barbara Palermo’s two-year fight to legalize backyard chickens in Salem, Oregon. She never dreamed she’d end up learning filmmaking and then make a film that would win first prize at the local film festival and finally turn the tide at city hall. Her story is the age-old David versus Goliath theme. I couldn’t help but love her hutzpah.

What’s next for you as an author?
I’m really a photographer so whatever I do will be photo-driven, but what that will be, I’m not sure yet.

Laura Allen in her Oakland backyard. Photo: Lori Eanes

Read Lori Eanes’s blog about her book and related stories at Backyards Roots Book.

Places locally to catch Eanes on her book tour:

  • Saturday May 4, 1pm to 4pm: Pollinate Farm and Garden Grand Opening, 2727 Fruitvale Avenue, Oakland, 510.686. 3493 Slideshow with featured farmers Kitty Sharkey and her goats and Rachel Hoff.
  • Thursday May 9, 7pm to 9pm: Ecology Center, 2530 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, 510-548 3402. Slideshow with featured farmer Kitty Sharkey’s goats in the lobby.
  • Thursday May 23, 6pm to 7pm: Omnivore Bookshttp://omnivorebooks.com/  3885 Cesar Chavez Street, San Francisco, 415-282 4712. Slideshow with featured local farmer Heidi Kooy and a chicken.

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