by Stephanie Block

Who says you can’t live off the land in the middle of a city? Oakland Sol-ers are doing just that. Their mixed-use building in the heart of East Oakland’s warehouse district hardly strikes one as an urban oasis, surrounded as it is by auto body shops and a freeway.

But much like the fantastical world of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, an entirely other environment awaits inside. Multi-color Oompa Loompa chickens (not their Latin name), a greenhouse full of tiny seasonal seedlings, corn rows (think Nebraska not Jamaica), and a magical collection of living compost cause most city slickers everlasting jaw drops.

The seed for the Sol (an acronym for Sustaining Ourselves Locally) idea was planted at Slide Ranch, a non-profit agricultural and environmental education center perched on the dramatic coastline north of San Francisco near Stinson Beach. Environmental educators all, the founders of Sol earned their hemp stripes teaching children everything from how to spin sheep’s wool and milk goats, to how to make their own worm compost boxes (you can imagine the Mother’s Day presents that year), not to mention starfish-gazing in the spectacular tide pools.

Says co-founder Corey Block, “We thought there was a disconnect between urban Bay Area kids coming to visit this idyllic location. We wanted them to be able to have follow up and reinforcement to connect more directly to their daily city life.”

Today, nine incredibly dedicated twenty-somethings live and work at Sol, East Oakland’s answer to Slide Ranch. The Sol team grows local, seasonal, organic produce and enjoys green eggs from an Aracana chicken with their soy ham. They offer ongoing educational programs with local and neighborhood elementary schools and youth groups.

Everyday, children come to marvel at how high the rose bushes climb and to sit on the great cob bench like a mermaid’s throne fashioned with clay, sand, and straw. The thing is, everything you see at Sol, even some of the dividing walls and the mosaic pathway through the garden, is made by Sol residents and their students.

Sol is urban sustainable living at its most elegant and relies on the generosity of Sol-full supporters who believe that city life can be every bit as healthy as country life.

Ways To Learn More About Sol

1. Attend an event! SATURDAY, APRIL 16, Sol is hosting an amazing, Cuban-themed event that kicks off at 7 p.m. with a film and discussion about sustainable agriculture in Cuba. Then at 8:30, they get the party started with food and cheap drinks, plus a DJ and live Afro-Cuban drummers.

2. Get thee to the Farmers Market! Specifically the Ecology Center Farmers Market in Berkeley, Derby and Martin Luther King Streets. Sol has a booth every TUESDAY from 2–7.

3. Visit for more information or to make a donation.