UC Master Gardeners donate tomato plants to students in May

May 5, 2020

To plant the seed of healthful eating among youngsters, UC Cooperative Extension is giving away vegetable plants to Oakland families with school children. 

On Thursday, May 7, CalFresh Healthy Living, UC staff will give tomato and basil seedlings to Oakland parents who come to pick up food for their children at West Oakland Middle School. The team will also be giving away plants again at Elmhurst United Middle School on May 14 and at Bret Hart Middle School on May 21. The plants are being donated by the UC Master Gardener Program of Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

“Gardening activities can help increase children's interest in eating fresh fruits and vegetables and improve their understanding of the health benefits and major nutrients found in the plants grown,” said Tuline Baykal, program supervisor of the CalFresh Healthy Living, UC team in Alameda County.

UCCE Master Gardeners are donating 100 tomato plants in 1-gallon pots for the giveaway on Thursday. The seedlings are in paper bags with planting instructions in six languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Arabic. 

The plants were part of the annual plant sale normally held in April to raise funds for the UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County, which is funded primarily by revenue generated by the plant sale and donations. The sale, which attracts thousands of gardening enthusiasts, was canceled due to COVID-19 safety concerns.

“We didn't want the plants to go to waste, we wanted to get them out into the community,” said Dawn Kooyumjian, UC Master Gardener Program coordinator.

“Rather than compost the plants at this time of heightened interest in home vegetable gardening and food security, we saw an opportunity to connect with Oakland Unified School District through the UC Master Gardeners of Alameda County School Garden Support Team, which supports gardens in Title 1 schools by mentoring teachers, parents and Food Corps volunteers.”

In past weeks, they gave away tomato plants at Sankofa Academy, which serves children in preschool through fifth grade.

UC Master Gardener volunteer Devra Laner coordinated with OUSD to distribute plants at the meal giveaways.

“Six to eight Oakland school gardens are being opened up this week,” Kooyumjian said. “UC Master Gardeners will be donating some tomato plants to these school gardens and FoodCorps Service members will be harvesting the garden produce to donate to food distribution centers.”

In addition to the plants being given away to Oakland families, the UC Master Gardener Program in Contra Costa County has donated 30,000 plants to 48 community and school gardens in the Bay Area. They also provided plants to local nurseries that could not keep up with the current demand for gardening supplies that COVID-19 has created.

“Typically, our plant sale takes in $85,000 or more. Because of COVID-19, we turned the Great Tomato Sale into what our gardeners call ‘Our Great Tomato Share' to support our underserved community,” said Frank McPherson, director of UC Cooperative Extension for the Bay Area.

By Pamela Kan-Rice
Author - Assistant Director, News and Information Outreach