Planting Justice co-founder Gavin Raders beside one their young apple trees
DECEMBER 2019 MARKETPLACECONTRACOSTA.COM 33
for another unincorporated neighborhood, then pass
briefly through the City of San Pablo before emerging in
Richmond for the final time. If you weren’t counting, that’s
five municipal boundaries that he has to cross to visit his own
city library. There is, in fact, no possible way to make this
journey without leaving the city limits. A couple of years ago
he might have been able to make the trek partially on foot
through Sobrante Ridge Regional Park, but since heavy rain
washed out sections of trail a couple of winters ago, even that
This geographic absurdity has some real life ramifications.
Law enforcement for the El Sobrante Valley (basically, the area
on either side of San Pablo Dam Road) is divided between
two police forces, the county sheriff, and the Highway Patrol.
If you’re planning to murder someone, I recommend shooting
them as they’re driving along Dam Road. With luck, their
vehicle will continue to roll for a while, making it difficult to
determine which agency has jurisdiction, complicating the
The places that Richmond swallowed in its scattershot
growth pattern, however, are of less interest than the ones it
bypassed (at least for the purposes of this article). Drive up
Santa Rita Road from DeAnza HIgh School, for example,
and you’ll pass blocks and blocks of standard-issue suburban
bungalows, until you suddenly encounter horse trailers and
other artifacts of our agricultural past. These neighborhoods
- the ones left behind in Richmond’s expansion - have large,
deep lots, which have lately attracted a breed known as the
Aside from a small vegetable patch in my back yard, my
own gardening has an aesthetic focus, but I’ve made many
friends who are very serious about growing their own food.
These folks not only grow much of their own produce, but
keep chickens (primarily for eggs), rabbits (for meat), goats
(for milk), and bees (for honey). There’s apparently enough
animal husbandry for the area to support its own rural feed
store, El Sobrante Feed on Appian Way. In the past, county
government kind of ignored all of this, but the board of
supervisors recently passed an ordinance to codify lot size
requirements for types and numbers of animals. To the dismay
of many in the homesteading community, this has been
followed by stepped-up enforcement, forcing many to reduce
their flocks or herds.
There are even a few commercial agricultural enterprises
within minutes of most readers.
Perhaps the most remarkable of these is Cloverfield
Organic Farm, located at 501 La Paloma Road in El
Sobrante. Cloverfield occupies a roughly five-acre parcel that
became available in the wake of the Great Recession, and
was purchased by owner Susan Truscott and her husband in
2011. Susan has a degree in plant science from UC Davis,
and took workshops with John Jeavons of Ecology Action, a
semi-legendary figure in the field of organic farming. (Check
out growbiointensive.org for more on his innovations.) The
timing was serendipitous for more reasons than the depressed
real estate values. Because the land had been vacant for several
years, Susan was able to obtain organic certification with
just a few soils samples, something that would have typically
required a multi-year wait.
Conventional wisdom says that organic farming is less
efficient than using conventional modern practices, which
is why organic produce costs more. In reality, contemporary
industrial agriculture gets most of its price advantage from
mechanization, not productivity of the land. A single farmer
with a tractor and a combine harvester can farm a vast
acreage all by himself, as long as he’s only growing a single
crop. Unfortunately, growing large monocultures depletes
the soil of nutrients while concentrating pests and pathogens,
requiring large inputs of often-toxic chemicals to compensate.
Organic farming practices can produce at least as much food
per acre, but require more labor.
You can see this for yourself when you visit Cloverfield.
The main field, which is only about a acre, is divided into