Seaquins Young began working at the Berkeley Youth Alternatives Gardens at the age of 15. For Young, the program provided financial and emotional support as she completed her independent education through her pregnancy. Now, as a 19-year-old in the job market, she had no idea the program that supported her for four years was ending.
“I knew I could always depend on coming back (to the garden),” Young said. “Now that everything is falling apart, it’s devastating.”
The gardens — a sector of the Berkeley Youth Alternatives Health and Environment program — hire youth interns from low-income backgrounds. After 18 years of operation, the gardens are being forced to close, leaving three local students and one staff member without a job.
“Just the idea of one more thing in their lives being unstable is really challenging,” said Kimberly Allen, program manager for the garden. “The garden has been a very stable, steady opportunity.”
Allen’s last day of work is Oct. 27, two days after the official last day for the interns.
Despite the high number of community farms in the area, BYA is the only community youth training garden in Berkeley, according to Allen. The program works to provide both life skills training for youth and access to healthy food. Most teens in the program come from Berkeley High School and the cities of Richmond and Oakland.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do now,” said Andranee Nabors, a senior at Berkeley High School who has been working at the garden since she was 14. “We won’t receive all the nutrition and gardening information like we did before.”
The program started as a collaboration with the landscape architecture department at UC Berkeley and, in the past five years, the garden has given tours and information sessions for UC Berkeley classes, Allen said.
“It’s a good opportunity for people who want to get away from their books and get their hands dirty,” Allen said.
UC Berkeley student interns from the Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency Urban Gardening Institute, a Berkeley-based organization that promotes urban food production, can gain class credit for their work at the garden. In the last year, the garden —— combined with two other BYA Health and Environment programs — has hosted 76 UC Berkeley volunteers, 32 of whom earned class credit.
Out of the 37 students hired by BYA Health and Environment programs, 31 stayed for over six months and 19 had improved grades and attendance in their classes, according to an annual report by the BYA. Outside of the classroom, 21 were successful in creating a resume and cover letter and securing an interview.
The garden typically provided internships for eight to 10 youth during the school year, and 12 in the summer. In recent years the program has reduced the number of interns due to a lack of funding.
“Last year we (ran) at $85,000 — that is sort of the minimal,” Allen said. “We were able to have a program, but ideally we could use twice that.”
Over the summer, the farm sustained itself on private donations and some funding from social services. The program was not able to secure any money from the city or through grants, according to Allen.
Despite these setbacks, Allen said she hopes this is only a short sabbatical for the program.
“I definitely think it is possible to restart the program,” Allen said. “There are a lot of people that support the program and want to see it succeed.”