Stunted growth

CITY AFFAIRS: As a program seeking to educate youth about gardening faces closure, we encourage the community to embrace it.

The city of Berkeley is an epicenter for the slow food movement, promoting the ideals of local and sustainable agricultural practices with access to such produce for all. But now, as a city urban gardening program is about to close its doors, it seems the community has slightly loosened its grip on those values.

The 18-year-old Berkeley Youth Alternatives Gardens has provided internships and a haven for low-income, local youths to teach them about gardening through a very hands-on experience. The garden has typically been able to hire 10 youths during the school year and 12 in the summer, though in recent years, it has had to downsize. But because the program could not sustain itself through private donations and was not able to garner funding from the city or from grants, it must now shut down by the end of the month.

We are disappointed that within the same city that proudly hosts figures like Alice Waters — a pioneer of the organic food movement and owner of the Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley — a program that supports community gardening for the betterment of local youths is facing termination. Though the effect of the garden’s closure may seem relatively small — three students and one staff member will be out of a job — we are saddened by the loss of the garden’s great potential.

Not only does the program provide locally-raised food, but it has also been a windfall in the lives of the youth it serves. An annual report by the organization which oversees the garden, showed that the program and two others like it hired 37 total students in the past year, more than half of whom improved their grades and attendance. Additionally, the report shows that 21 successfully created a resume and cover letter and secured an interview.

Furthermore, the garden maintained an educational relationship with UC Berkeley by working with students in the Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency Urban Gardening Institute. Over the past year, the garden and the two other Berkeley Youth Alternatives programs hosted 76 UC Berkeley student volunteers, many of whom earned class credit.

If such a program cannot thrive in Berkeley — a Mecca for those with a passion for sustainable food — where would it be able to do so? We hope to see the community reach out to the garden and shower this program with the financial nourishment it needs to grow.