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.

Related:
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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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