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Behind the Scenes: Take Root

Urban gardening—whether in one’s yard, a community plot, or even in window box—is the subject of a dynamic, family-friendly exhibition in the Gallery of California Natural Sciences called Take Root: Oakland Grows Food.

Focusing on the cultivation of food right here in Oakland, the exhibition looks at how positive ecological practices are happening—and can continue to evolve—in our own backyard.  “Urban gardens are a vital part of our cities, and are places where people not only cultivate food but also grow community and nurture healthy ecosystems,” says Associate Curator of Natural Sciences Sarah Seiter.

The exhibition is divided into three main sections. The first explores where gardens grow, and the conditions that help or impede successful urban gardening. Interactive maps show “food deserts”—the areas with compromised access to food—and areas with higher degrees of gentrification and soil contamination.

Another section takes a deep dive into garden ecosystems, examining how things grow, and the organisms and conditions that impact cultivation. Curious about which insects are friends and which ones aren’t? Want to know how different species—including humans—come together to create a productive garden? Interactive displays allow visitors to explore inter-species relationships, inviting them to learn about helpful pollinators, harmful parasites, and other living things. And a play area encourages kids to immerse themselves in a fanciful garden-like setting. “It’s all about interaction,” Seiter explains. “We want to offer opportunities for wonder, engagement, and fun.”

And this is the essence of Take Root: Oakland Grows Food: to connect people with stories that inspire them and help them better understand their city. In a short video, community members discuss why they grow food in Oakland and how it sustains them, their friends and family, and their cultural traditions. These narratives reveal how gardening brings nourishment and satisfaction, while enriching the community.

“With Take Root, we wanted to create a way for parents and kids to share a fun and meaningful experience,” Seiter adds. “Our hope is that this show serves as an entry point to learning more about urban gardens in Oakland.”

Take Root: Oakland Grows Food is on view through January 13, 2019. 

A version of this article originally appeared in Inside Out, the Oakland Musem of California’s magazine.