2024 Topping Out Ceremony: A Major Milestone at the North Richmond Farm

On March 22, 2024, Urban Tilth marked a major milestone in transforming the skyline and culture of North Richmond.  Over 60 community members, our construction and design teams, staff, and major donors came together to celebrate raising the last beam of the Phase II farm construction.

A ”topping out” ceremony is a construction tradition that has been occurring in some fashion for centuries as a celebration of project milestones. Traditionally, this ceremony occurs when the final structural beam is raised into place, completing the building’s frame. 

Before the beam was raised into place, a few ceremonial practices took place. Future owners of the building and the project team sign the beam, leaving their permanent mark on the building. The beam is not the only item raised in the tradition of topping out – a fir tree and the American flag are attached before its final placement. The exact history of the tree tradition is not quite known, but there are a few explanations, including gratitude and celebration.

The Topping Out Ceremony at the North Richmond Farm opened with breakfast and music from The Nathan Bickart Trio, featuring Michael Tiny Lindsey (bass), James Small (drum),  and of course Urban Tilth’s Director of Watershed and Water Conservation Program Nathan Bickart (keyboard). This trio’s music builds on the piano trio traditions of artists ranging from Bill Evans to Robert Glasper, thoughtfully weaving together jazz, soul, and folk music to create a warm and joyful sound that nourishes both body and soul. They performed the trio’s powerfully moving 4-movement piece entitled ‘Gravity Sweet,’ a multi-media reflection on the human relationship to land. 

Following this warm welcome, our Executive Director, Doria Robinson, shared thoughts on the 9-year-long journey Urban Tilth has taken to arrive at this milestone. She introduced Adele Ho, our amazing Construction Project Manager, along with our Staff, the Board of Directors, the construction teams from Overaa Construction and EarthBound Building, the design team from Noll and Tam Architects, and the many major donors who gathered to take part in this moment. 

After walking out to the site where the Native Plant Nursery is being built and the last beam would be raised, Daniela Tabora, Rudy Lozito Fellowship Manager, led those who gathered in a moving and deeply reflective land acknowledgment recognizing that we are on Lisjan Ohlone land. 

Doria read the powerful poem, Perhaps the World Ends Here, by poet and member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Joy Harjo. Remarking that,

 “Bringing this farm to life is in so many ways the bringing to life of a community ‘kitchen table’ where we can all gather in joy, exhaustion, to witness new births and to observe and give thanks for the lives of those who’ve passed on. 

Our hope is that so much will be born here, so many seeds will be planted and we hope so many inspiring revolutionary seeds will be rooted in this soil and travel on the wind and on the socks of our visitors and planted all across Richmond so we can grow the future we need to thrive”

– Doria Robinson, Executive Director Urban Tilth

Carl Overaa of Overaa Construction initiated the Topping Out Ceremony by sharing with the crowd the meaning and significance of the construction tradition, along with explaining the role of the American flag in the ceremony, as it is a key element in that tradition. Then our dear friends from EarthBound Building, a worker-owned cooperative and long-time allies and dreamers with Urban Tilth, who built two of the buildings of Phase II in the old traditional (and now very rare) heavy timber framing style of construction shared the Whetting Bough ceremony, an older version of the Topping Out Ceremony practiced by traditional heavy timber framers that includes attaching a bough from the tree used to create that last beam to that beam. Urban Tilth at this point also added a cutting from the Willow tree we had to remove to make room for this new construction in hopes that what we do in these buildings, growing so many new plants and creating opportunities for young people and North Richmond, Richmond, San Pablo residents will be worthy of its sacrifice. 

Following the presentation of these ceremonial items all who gathered came forward to sign the last beam with Sharpies and leave messages for those who will come after us. After a group photo (shown above), we moved back to watch the crane lift into place the last beam, with the American flag, a bough from the white oak used to frame the Native Plant Nursery, and cuttings from the Willow attached.  The beam was secured into place by members of the EarthBound Building cooperative and Healthy Homes Artisans teams. 

We stood watching this raising of the last beam in awe of the distance we’ve traveled and anticipation of the road ahead. What a profound opening to all that is to come! 

The North Richmond Farm. Dreamed of, built, and led by the community, the North Richmond Farm is a demonstration of the power of food as a catalyst for transformation, resilience, and equity in today’s urban communities. Located at the corner of Fred Jackson Way and Brookside Dr., 5 blocks from the center of the community, the North Richmond Farm includes three adjacent parcels covering over ten acres of land. The interim farm is a magnet for hundreds of Richmond youth, students, elders, new and experienced farmers, and local volunteers who steward the land, tend the soil, plant, harvest, and enjoy the food. The new North Richmond Farm will be much more than an urban agriculture project. The dream is to become a neighborhood anchor that seeds healing, connection, self-determination, and prosperity for our entire community by serving as the heart of resident-led organizing and opportunity in North Richmond.

The Nathan Bickart Trio. The Nathan Bickart Trio, featuring Michael Tiny Lindsey (bass) and James Small (drums), builds on the piano trio traditions of artists ranging from Bill Evans to Robert Glasper, thoughtfully weaving together jazz, soul, and folk music to create a warm and joyful sound that nourishes both body and soul. The trio released their debut album ‘Poem’ on March 28th, 2018, and toured the West Coast in support of the album. Most recently, the Trio composed and premiered a 4-movement piece entitled ‘Gravity Sweet,’ a multi-media reflection on the human relationship to land, in April 2022, with support from grantmaker InterMusic SF.

Earth-Bound Building. Earth-Bound Building is a collective of skilled builders, craftspeople, and farmers founded in 2014. It specializes in Timber Framing, Natural Building (straw bale and clay plaster), and Agricultural Infrastructure. They strongly value people over profit and use the business to achieve long-term goals of land sovereignty and Just Transition, as outlined by their close allies at the Climate Justice Alliance. Earth-Bound Building is a member of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and the National Black Food and Justice Alliance.

Overaa Construction. Overaa Construction, headquartered in Richmond, California, is a family-owned and operated design-build general contractor serving Northern California since 1907. Employees have voted it the Best Place to Work for the last seven years. Congressman Garamendi has awarded it a Congressional Commendation: “. . . Overaa’s unwavering commitment to innovation, safety, and community engagement has set a commendable standard within the construction industry.”

Healthy Home Artisans. Healthy Home Artisans are licensed builders specializing in high performance healthy natural buildings with a focus on non-toxic, climate-positive green building practices, energy efficiency, carbon sequestering straw bale construction, natural finishes, clay plaster, lime plaster, sustainable and renewable materials.  Our health, the planet and future generations are their driving design parameters.