Three of Berkeley Unified School District‘s elementary schools–Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and Washington—are in jeopardy of losing their entire cooking and gardening program funds beginning in October this year.
Under existing guidelines, the schools will no longer qualify for federal funding because they have fewer than 50 percent of their students enrolled in the free and reduced-lunch program, according to Leah Sokolofski, who supervises the program for the district.
Berkeley has an international reputation for its edible schoolyards, where public school children of all economic means learn what it takes to grow a radish and sauté some chard. Such funding cuts to the program, whose total budget is $1.94 million a year, would represent a significant setback in the city’s pioneering efforts to date. Read more
San Francisco will experience an unexpected windfall of free fruit thanks to a group of graft-happy gardeners. They call themselves the Guerrilla Grafters, and their vision is to see the trees lining the city streets begin to produce perfectly edible food. When I interviewed one of the Guerrilla Grafters recently, I learned that it’s not all about the grafting.
I discovered that Tara (last name withheld to protect her privacy), an early member of the Guerrilla Grafters, cares deeply about the society in which we live and our relationship with public spaces. We had interesting and engaging chat via Skype, and she explained what’s behind their efforts to crowd-source caring for fruiting trees in public spaces. Read more
“Heirloom” is an interesting term, and like the word “sustainability,” it means different things to different people. Recently, I read The Heirloom Life Gardener, a book written by Jere and Emilee Gettle. The Gettles are the co-founders of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, which publishes a lush and incredibly informative seed catalog and has spun off a variety of gardening-related enterprises across the nation.
The Gettles define heirloom seeds as being “nonhybrid and open-pollinated” and as usually having been in circulation for more than 50 years. Some heirloom seed types currently in use could have been found in Thomas Jefferson garden at Monticello. Some appear more recently, during the Great Depression, including the Mortgage Lifter tomato (who couldn’t use one of these in today’s economy?).
While reading the Gettles’ book, I began thinking once again about the relationship between land and the American character. I was inspired to pull some of my favorite books off the shelf and revisit them, to consider the notion of “civic agriculture.” Read more
Armed with soil and seeds, Catholics in blighted cities are taking social justice into their own hands.
In Camden, New Jersey a jumble of railroad tracks, freeways, and abandoned factories lace through the Waterfront South area on the Delaware River just across from Philadelphia. During heavy rains, a nearby wastewater treatment plant frequently leaks raw sewage onto the streets.
An urban exodus from Camden has left 4,000 empty lots in a 10-square-mile area; half of the houses have been abandoned. This makes the city a prime place for people to dump stuff they don’t know what to do with. One day an old speedboat ended up on Broadway, one of the city’s main streets. Two weeks before, a huge abandoned factory caught fire and burned to the ground. Read more
Whatever you call him, Steve Ritz is an extraordinary example of how one person can make a difference.
He has two missions: The first is to get his Discovery High School students to grow and eat vegetables. The second is to ignite the Green Bronx Machine and get all of the borough residents to grow and eat healthy food. (Watch out for the soon-to-come Web site and meanwhile follow Green Bronx Machine on Facebook and Twitter.)
Ritz is fueled by the irony that although the Bronx is the distribution point for produce to all five boroughs, its residents have very little access to high quality, fresh vegetables.
“If my kids can’t buy good produce at the local supermarket, we’ll get them to grow it,” Ritz decides. And grow they do! Hundreds of pounds of it a year. Where? On the classroom walls. Read more
It’s 2:30 on a Friday afternoon. The loudspeakers blare, “Garden Program is Good.” Then, out of grey military barrack-like buildings meander 30 or so men, headed to the “chapel” for class and some days, to a garden bursting with color. Dressed in their “blues.”
The group of men is predominantly African-American, with a healthy mix of other races. On the yard, razor wire and heavy chain-link fences surround them, with several guard towers looming over the area.
They are the class participants of the Insight Garden Program (IGP) at San Quentin State Prison. Read more
If there’s one thing Michelle Obama and Glenn Beck can agree on, it’s the notion that growing some of your own food is a good idea (though I suspect the Obamas get their seeds from sources other than Beck’s shifty, grifty seed bank sponsor).
You might think that level of bipartisan support would light a fire under our collective (gr)ass. But the much-ballyhooed kitchen garden revival has yet to make a dent in the bentgrass. As NASA reported in 2005, lawns now constitute “the single largest irrigated crop in America,” taking up at least three times the acreage we devote to irrigated corn. Has any nation in the history of mankind ever squandered so many resources to cultivate so much vegetation of such dubious value?
Meanwhile, we currently grow less than 2 percent of our own food.
“This,” Michele Owens declares in her just-published Grow the Good Life: Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise, “is not yet enough of a revolution to satisfy me.” Read more
For four years Kim Allen has served as garden program manager for Berkeley Youth Alternatives (BYA), which provides a minimum-wage, internship program for socio-economically challenged adolescents ages 14 to 18. Some come to the garden through word-of-mouth from family or friends, others as part of mandated community service. Read more
When Katie Stagliano was in third grade, she planted a cabbage in her family’s small garden. When it grew to an astounding 40 pounds, she donated it to a soup kitchen, where it was made into meals for 275 people (with the help of ham and rice). “I thought, ‘Wow, with that one cabbage I helped feed that many people?’” says Katie, now entering sixth grade. “I could do much more than that.”
So Katie started planting vegetable gardens as part of her nonprofit Katie’s Krops — she has six right now — including one the length of a football field at her school in her hometown of Summerville, S.C. Classmates, her family and other people in the community help plant and water, and Bonnie Plants donates seedlings. This past year, Katie took her commitment to a new level: she has given soup kitchens over 2,000 pounds of lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables. Katie and her helpers are now harvesting the spring planting, and another 1,200 pounds will be donated by October. Read more
Gardening is hot, and I don’t mean just sweaty work in July while you hoe the purslane and harvest beans, squash, and zucchini. Working the land is a trendy topic from web-rooted FarmVille to the White House to the written word.
Part of the reason for the new interest in the simple but yet so intensely complex act of growing food is that we have a clear problem and myriad solutions. The problem: obesity rates increased in 28 states in the past year. As recently reported in “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010,” obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges our country has faced. With 1 in 3 US children age 2-19 overweight or obese, we need to end this trend and fortunately, many organizations, initiatives, and resources aim to solve child obesity in a generation.
Part of the solution starts with students and a seed. Read more