|Church’s rooftop garden inspires city youth|
By Kim Griffis*
Sept. 3, 2009 | SAN FRANCISCO (UMNS)
Look around San Francisco’s Tenderloin District and there’s hardly a
tree or plant to be found. It is a concrete jungle of sidewalks,
streets and buildings.
But high above the sidewalks and streets sits a growing oasis of green.
The roof of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church
is alive with cabbage, cucumbers, and curious young students thanks to
an organic, edible rooftop garden that sprouted up last year.
The organic garden teaches
healthy eating habits.
“It's amazing that it can exist in this part of San Francisco,
especially in this neighborhood,” says Maya Donelson, 25, who manages
the church’s garden project. “A lot of people here are low income, and
this provides them a way they can actually learn how to grow their own
The Graze the Roof project grew out of Glide’s partnership with the
Oakland nonprofit Bay Localize, which promotes edible rooftops. As an
intern at Bay Localize, Donelson applied for a $10,000 grant to fund a
new rooftop project. She got the grant at the same time Glide was
planning ways to bring environmentally sound policies to the low-income
and homeless population the church serves,
“Our mission is to help people break the cycles of poverty and empower
themselves,” says Janice Mirikitani, with Glide Foundation. “For many
reasons, poor people are left out and marginalized from any healthy
living because they can’t afford it. They aren’t given access.”
Most of the Tenderloin District’s kids don’t have much access to fresh,
nutritious produce. But since Glide’s garden was planted in the summer
of 2008, it has grown into a living classroom and popular snack bar for
“We’re collecting tomatoes!” exclaims a smiling 6-year-old, as she drops a red globe into a basket.
Nearby, other children pull radishes, pick basil leaves and harvest a
heavy head of cabbage. Donelson uses the hands-on harvesting time to
teach them basic gardening skills, as well as an appreciation for
vegetables and herbs some of them had never seen.
Maya Donelson (center)
manages the project.
A local chef, Rebecca Alonzi, teaches children how to incorporate
the produce into their diet. One summer morning, kindergarteners use
freshly picked basil and cabbage to make cabbage pesto.
“It helps them to know also about creating,” says the Rev. Cecil
Williams of Glide. “It has to be participation on their part, that they
have done something that counts.”
While most kids might turn up their nose at the light green, gritty
concoction, those who have spent a season growing the ingredients, and
a morning making it into a tasty treat, cannot seem to get enough.
“It tastes good,” says Jose Jimenez, after trying a slice of French bread smeared with the pesto. “It tastes like it’s sweet.”
“It is just such a feeling of opening up their palates, opening up their world,” Alonzi says.
Mirikitani adds: “Well, it certainly beats Ding Dongs.”
A new creation
About 200 low-income or homeless children have participated in the
Graze the Roof program. Getting children involved is a deliberate move
on Glide’s part. Their excitement for eating nutritious foods and
learning about environmental stewardship is spreading to their families
and neighbors, planting the seeds for a healthier community.
The garden takes up less than half of the 4,500-square-foot rooftop,
but it is attracting a lot of local attention. Community members help
plant, grow and harvest food, as well as participate in free tours and
classes to learn how to start their own urban gardens and prepare
healthy meals and snacks from the harvest.
“This is a way for them to understand the process of how to grow their
own food in an urban center,” Donelson says, “and to show them ways to
incorporate the food that they’re growing, as almost a reward, into
*Griffis is a freelance journalist living near Seattle.
News media contact: David Briggs, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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