Vacant Berkeley lot is transformed into vertical farm

David Ceaser runs the stand, where buyer can peruse the plants and pick their own produce. Photo: Eden Teller

David Ceaser runs the stand, where buyers can peruse the plants and pick their own produce. Photo: Eden Teller

Green Skies Vertical Farm (GSV Farm) on Channing and Fifth Street is even more hyperlocal than a farmer’s market. The food is grown, harvested and sold from 739 Channing Way, a once-vacant lot that now is home to stacked planters full of strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes and dozens of other edible plants.

David Ceaser started GSV Farm on April 15 this year and said “it’s still really an experiment.” He goes by the lot that he leased several days a week, spending “two hours here, three hours there.” He has several other jobs, Ceaser said, but this is his passion.

Ceaser was formerly the business manager of an organic farm in the Central Valley, but soon realized the “inefficiencies” of the business model. Transporting bushels of food from the valley out to various farmers’ markets came to appear to him to be incredibly wasteful, he said, and, once the farmer gets there, he or she may not sell even half the produce in the stall. The stall across the way might also have the same products, but for half the price.

Six rows and twelve kinds of salad greens are the first things a shopper runs into at GSV Farms. Photo: Eden Teller

Six rows and twelve kinds of salad greens are the first things a shopper or passer-by runs into at GSV Farms. Photo: Eden Teller

GSV Farm eliminates those problems, said Ceaser. Shoppers can peruse the produce when it’s still in the ground, taste fruits right off the plant, and pick exactly what they need – so there’s no waste. Ceaser has set up a row of planters in front with a dozen different salad greens – arugula, mizuna (Japanese water greens), sunflower sprouts and more – that are ready to be plucked and eaten, and he keeps a bowl of strawberries by the scales.

The farm’s location is serendipitous. It’s situated on the corner of Channing, a bicycle boulevard, so people can coast right up to the fence. Volunteers come from the neighborhood to tend to the planters. Marie Jensen, who lives in the area, found a flyer in her mailbox and decided to help out with her son Miles. The tasks for volunteers are whatever needs doing at the moment, whether it’s thinning the radishes or picking strawberries.

David Ceaser, founder of Green Skies Vertical Farm. Photo: Irene Rice

Ceaser plans to keep the farm going during Berkeley’s mild winters and is considering putting up a makeshift greenhouse by draping clear plastic sheeting around several of the planters. He’s also raising money to buy several chickens and install an aquaponics system, in which water from a large fish tank is pumped into the vegetable beds, which are in turn fertilized by fish feces.

Ceaser said he’s also hoping to get a few restaurants on board to buy the farm’s produce, but “it’s still in stage one.”

Edit at 12:35 p.m.: Business hours for Green Skies Vertical Farm are on Wednesdays from 3-7 p.m.

[Hat tip: Irene Rice]

Eden Teller, a graduate of Berkeley High School, is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. She will be attending Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, next year.

Farmacology: Farm to body lessons (06.03.13)
Urban Adamah buys 2 acres in West Berkeley (05.23.13)
Backyard Roots: Book shares secrets of city farming (05.03.13)
Pollinate Farm & Garden: A new homesteading oasis (04.30.13)
Bigger urban farm means more leafy greens for Oakland (02.04.13)

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  • gwumpycat

    Does he own the lot?

    Or is this a squat?

  • Lindsey J.

    This is a GREAT idea all around, and I love the used gutters as planters. Missing from this article is what hours the farm is open for sales. Are there set hours of business that you can add into the article?

  • Miss J.

    Thanks for letting me know!

    I’ll go to 739 Channing for a taste of the neighborhood. Berkeleyside adds such great dimension and information to our wonderful city.

  • M.E. Lawrence

    Grumpy, indeed. All those Berkeleyside readers’ complaints about Occupy the Farm and why didn’t those outside agitators raise cheap crops in neighborhoods that lack markets, etc., and now someone appears to be doing just that. Given that Ceaser is a professional farmer with a business plan, one whose project has been peacefully chugging along for more than three months, I’m going to assume that he’s (1) not a squatter and (2) deserves our support and congratulations.

  • Eden Teller

    The answers to your questions have been added to the article. Thanks for posting!

  • The_Sharkey

    Less than half a mile away from Grocery Outlet.
    Just over 3/4 of a mile from Mi Terra and Berkeley Bowl West.

    But, yeah, a much better choice of location than OTF by a long shot. Plus reusing old gutters and construction equipment to make a raised planter system is pretty cool.

  • The_Sharkey

    Last sold for over $2 million in 2008.
    Starting to doubt he owns it. Wonder if he leases it?

  • curiousjorge

    why would anyone assume he owns it? of course he leases it, or is there by permission. the default assumption should not be that someone operating a business for the past few months is squatting on his land… Oh, Berkeleyside commentariat, I just can’t quit you.

  • curiousjorge

    This should be tagged “vacant lot” as well – there are lots of articles about vacant lots on Berkeleyside (and rightfully so!).

    I wish that someone would start one of these in any of the four vacant lots within 1/2 a mile of my house – I would help out and probably even contribute offsets from my own garden.

  • The_Sharkey

    How long did Novella Carpenter run her illegal squat farm in Oakland before she got caught?

  • curiousjorge

    false premise: it wasn’t an illegal squat farm – she had permission and she’s still there. read her book – its very entertaining.

  • The_Sharkey

    Are you sure about that?

    Carpenter only recently purchased the lot,
    and for many years had been squatting
    on the property, asserting that the garden
    was a benefit to the public.

  • curiousjorge

    the article you cite contains no reference to any source for the claim that she was squatting. Carpenter’s book tells the story of how she originally just wanted something prettier to look at out her window, but then as her plants started thriving and the owner of the lot came by and asked her about it, she convinced the owner to give her permission to garden there until he sold the lot or got a building approved. That’s not squatting.

  • TN

    There’s a similarity in technique between GSV and Urban Adamah. That is that neither farm uses the existing soil. The latter uses soil trucked in and then further amended, laid on top of the ground. The former appears to be using a hydroponic type system. Both completely avoid the issue of potentially contaminated soil in a formerly industrial plot. Both farms are ultimately portable. Although I imagine moving Urban Adamah is going to be a lot more work than moving GSV.

  • Buzz Kiljoy

    No I’m sure it’s a squat -probably evicted stray cats and homeless starving children. It’s probably a ancient Ohlone burial ground too, oh it makes my head hurt.

  • Eden Teller

    Yes, I added them to the bottom – of all the things to overlook!

  • emraguso

    Thank you so much!

  • Eden Teller

    He’s leasing it from its owner – totally legal. If he was squatting, he probably wouldn’t have wanted the article!

  • Bill

    David, I live in the Sunset near a vacant lot and muni metro line. I know the property owner and nearby shop keepers. I thought of an urban farm for locals but you have a better idea-come on over, I’d love it.

  • bgal4

    I am growing indeterminate tomatoes on a trellis made of electrical conduit and remesh, super easy to train 6′ tall plants. cheaper than towers and a lot easier to manage once built.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I used remesh but found that it was hard to train some varieties as flat as that. So now I just use those heavy duty 8′ stakes you can get at OSH. Fence post hammer from the BPL and I’m set.

  • Janet

    Negative commenters, what’s wrong with you?
    Relax, enjoy life a little and eat your fruits and vegetables.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I believe Urban Adamah planted atop shipping palettes pricesely to facilitate the anticipated move.

  • TN

    From my experience, untreated pallets sitting on the ground or even concrete have a very limited life. Some of Urban Adamah’s pallets have been sitting on the ground for a couple of years now while constantly being exposed to nutrient rich runoff. They will be difficult to move.

  • Jeffrey White


  • The_Sharkey

    You’d be surprised! Not sure if you were around for all the brouhaha from that illegal backyard brunch place a few years ago… :)

    Glad to hear he’s doing it all legally. This is a great idea and I hope he’s successful.

  • SwD

    did you read it? he leases space several days a week….

  • SwD

    my bad…..SF gate has the piece where it states he leases the space sevral days a week

  • SwD

    why so accrimonious Sharkey, are not those teeth sharp enough….the man has a plan, and leases the land……relax a bit….

  • bgal4

    Cool, I got so sick of towers so I searched online for solutions and found folks from rural area using farm materials for gardens beautifully. I looked around for cattle panels which is a cheap and long term tomato trellis, , no luck so I settled for the re-mesh wired onto conduit, we like our tomato alley.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    probably bulldozed a medicinal MJ operation and a petting zoo to make that lot vacant, too.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    People want information that the article didn’t include. And given this town’s predilection for situational ethics, some folks want to know if a new venture like this is on the up and up since you cannot assume that here. Sounds like all is well, however, and I hope this fellow is successful.

  • Chris J

    Part of his whole raison d’être is to grow in unused urban spaces, knowing that they will be sold eventually and the farm would need to move. Raising the beds also avoids the possibly dirty ground below that might be pretty polluted.

  • chlorophiliac

    Even if it were “illegal,” we need more guerrilla gardeners! (Ron Finely of SoCal comes to mind.)

  • Chris J

    Weird. Drove past there this morning about 745 and I saw the lot–practically empty of stuff save for a few crows hanging out. Well, still…I like the idea.

    My wife and I are planning some vertical gardening of our own–using a unit. Cost of the unit was over $200 but it allows for a whole pile of different plants. We’re pretty excited.

  • guest

    Well, Janet, unfortunately there was a group of “farmers” who tried to kick the U.C. Berkeley scientists off their field at Gill tract last summer in the name of urban farming. Of course, they weren’t really farmers, they were radical activists who were using a popular movement to achieve their political goals. In doing so, they alienated a lot of people who lived near Gill. So that’s where the suspicion and negatively comes from.

  • guest

    Really? I don’t think so. Turning urban farming into a political football will only turn what is a good idea that anyone can support into a contentious issue that only the Left will support. Yet another stupid, totally avoidable fight brought to you by the dregs of Occupy.

  • TN

    I just walked by the lot and everything that was there this past week is still there.

  • Chris J

    Shows how much you can miss from a car, I suppose. Might drop by bike to take a look.

  • David Ceaser

    We are leasing the lot from the owner.

  • David Ceaser

    Hi Bill. Send me an e-mail with more info about the lot ( Thanks.

  • David Ceaser

    I would love to see pictures of your tomato setup. We don”t have a good solution for tomatoes so I would appreciate learning more about yours. Can you send me some fotos to thanks.

  • bgal4


    Here is the evaluation titled Tomato Staking Techniques Evaluation

    from Santa Clara University which convinced me of this solution.

    The photo included on the doc is pretty good, if you still want me to forward a photo of our set up I can.

  • bgal4

    photo of remesh conduit trellis

  • Jessica

    Ownership of the Gill tract is not a settled issue. The family that donated the nutrient rich land -the result of thousands of years of sediment deposits from nearby streams- wanted it used for agricultural education and research, not housing developments that even nearby residents cannot afford and GMO/pesticide testing.

    No, they weren’t really “farmers”, but that’s really not the point at all. We do not need to misdirect our suspicion at “scary” activists who are simply trying to make people more aware of where our food comes from and what the impacts of its production are. And FYI the food that they produced at Gill was distributed throughout Berkeley and Oakland to residents in need.