Judith and Chanowk Yisrael become urban farming pioneers in part out of necessity. During the Great Recession, they were looking to reduce their family’s food bill—together, they have nine children. They also wanted to transition to a healthier, plant-based diet, with vegetables as the centerpiece of the family dinner table.
So they planted a half-acre urban farm in the backyard of their south Oak Park home. They don’t use pesticides or herbicides and, with a self-imposed “no-till” rule, the farm is very much a labor of love. After a few years of trial and error, the farm was productive enough that they could share their bounty with others. But when they tried to sell their produce to their neighbors, they discovered that it was illegal. So they partnered with other urban farmers to create the Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition, which helped pass a 2015 city ordinance allowing people to grow and sell produce to consumers directly from their properties.
The USDA considers their neighborhood a food desert, but Judith doesn’t use that term. “We are under food apartheid,” she says. One way the farm combats that is through a youth mentorship program, Project G.O.O.D. “That is our core, our heart, our passion,” she says. The couple’s goal is to empower people by giving them what they need to be self-sufficient. “It doesn’t matter if they’re in an apartment or small backyard or patio,” she says. “We always show them ways that they can grow.”
Chanowk calls urban farming “a gateway drug” to a deeper connection with nature. “There’s a corresponding life lesson you can learn by watching nature around you,” he says. “I’m more aware of the impact I’m making, not just on myself and my community, but, ultimately, the planet.”
Judith would like to use their backyard farm to celebrate the intersection between food and culture. They once hosted a cacao ceremony to celebrate the ancient healing ritual of drinking cacao in a sacred circle. “Land isn’t just for growing food—it’s a space that our ancestors used for rituals and storytelling, and that’s how culture is handed down,” she says. “I would love to do that again, and be able to grow our space where we can reach more people.”
Yisrael Family Farm operates a farm stand at the Sacramento African Marketplace, located at 2251 Florin Road, on the first and third Saturdays of the month.