Kelly Carlisle Founder and Executive Director

Organization: Acta Non Verba

Location: Oakland, CA

In her words...

“Being a Black woman founder and executive director of an organization, I can see how important it is to ensure that, especially for children of color, the experts that we hire look like them. That the people in charge, who are teaching them and leading them and are the “smartest’ and/or “most caring” or “nicest”  reflect the communities we serve.. I want to inspire kids to become those people when they grow up.”

What gives her hope...

I hope to bring stories of challenges and successes from my experience in East Oakland and beyond to the Castanea Fellowship cohort.  I have learned that our farm(s) are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to "Food Access" in our area. So I hope to expand my knowledge of diverse food systems and solutions that work with communities, not around them.

Kelly's Story:

‘Acta Non Verba’ is Latin for ‘deeds not words.’  Growing seasonal fruits and vegetables, teaching kids about healthy food and earning the trust of marginalized communities are the very deeds that Kelly Carlisle believes have made her a better person. 

In 2010, she founded Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project, a nonprofit urban farm that serves youth from kindergarten to 8th grade. A US Navy veteran, Kelly returned to Oakland, CA after her service, looking for a way to give back to the inner-city community where she grew up. She discovered gardening and never looked back. Today, ANV operates 3 urban farms that serve many communities in Oakland and beyond that include African American, Latinx, and Middle Eastern children and their families. She also includes those with chronic illnesses, folks who live in poverty, and the “working poor.” Many of these communities live within walking distance of ANV’s main farm at Tassafaronga Park. Although her deeds have won her prominent awards and national accolades, most important to her is the trust she has earned from her community. From the people who visit her farm, she learned many lessons, including how to talk about the community and individuals within it in ways that honor them and their hard work, lifting up their dedication to their families and community as opposed to a more reductive way of sharing who they are. When she first started the farm, she envisioned young children being as excited as she was to grow food for themselves, their families and their community. The kids’ enthusiasm was a win, but over the next decade of her learning, she realized the real fight was systems and forces that make every aspect of food and eating a low or no priority proposition for many of her community members. She works every day to expand the understanding of food deserts and food apartheid in Oakland, while respecting that every family in the neighborhood is doing their very best to feed themselves in the best way that they can. 

Kelly has been awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, was selected as a U.S. Delegate to Slow Food International’s Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto, and is a Bon Appetit Good Food Fellow. She is an active member of the Farmer Veteran Coalition. Kelly’s work has been honored at the White House by President Barack Obama. 

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