- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
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.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Since adopting the stretch along Sausal Creek in Dimond Park in 2012, 20 4-H members ranging from 5 to 12 years old have been pulling out the invasive plants and replacing them with native plants.
“Friends of Sausal Creek provides us with all the plants and gives us guidance on what should go where,” said Genesta Zarehbin, the 4-H adult volunteer leading the project.
“We planted lots of native plants, such as strawberries, bee plant, ninebark, iris-leaf rush, wood rush, and thimbleberry, that look really cool — but it still gives the appearance of more ivy and spiderwort,” said Zarehbin, who lives in Oakland.
“They have field journals and do research to complete a plant page,” Zarehbin said. “The younger kids do observation -- how many leaves does it have? What color is it? How tall is it? It's a natural discussion when you're out there.”
After removing the invasive, nonnative plants, the 4-Hers had the opportunity to redesign the stretch of trail by choosing and planting natives. At monthly meetings held at the creek, the members regularly weed, water and mulch the plants and pick up trash.
“My kids really get into it,” said Zarehbin, whose children include 9- and 11-year-old sons and twin 6-year-old daughters. “They recognize cow parsnip and soaproot when we go out on hikes. In some areas they'll say, ‘This looks like people are taking care of it.' It gives them a sense of place and how humans shape the environment.”
“The first year, everything died,” said Zarehbin. “The second year, we supplemented the water, and we have a number of plants that survived.”
The creek project is educating the 4-H members, and the 4-H members, in turn, are educating park visitors about the vital work of protecting our natural resources.
“Since our work site is in a very visible location, our 4-H members have been able to enlist the assistance of community members and they frequently have the opportunity to share information with curious onlookers,” said the 4-H project leader.
Zarehbin appreciates the autonomy that Friends of Sausal Creek has allowed, something that enables the kids to develop a sense of ownership. “They let the kids control how they want things to look,” she explained. “The Friends of Sausal Creek are willing to work with young kids and let them work hands-on and contribute in a meaningful way.”
The organization often leads middle school and high school students on field trips, but 4-H is one the few long-term relationships they have with younger children.
Friends of Sausal Creek, which manages a 2600-acre watershed with two permanent full-time staff members, depends on the help of others to preserve and protect the creek.
Groups typically work on an adopted site a few times a year, whereas the 4-H members tend to their site at least once a month. At the last 4-H work day, 30 people participated, said Zarehbin.
“Their recurring workdays enable them to maintain the site – weeding around the native plants and watering them until they are established,” said McAfee. “Their work helps to increase the biodiversity in these urban wildlands.”
McAfee hopes the kids' enthusiasm for nurturing the natural environment will spread to other people in the community.
Every year the 4-H club hosts an Earth Day event for a local public school to share what they're learning with other kids their age. Last year, 90 students from Sequoia Elementary School participated, making nature-based crafts and pulling invasive plants to widen the trail. This year the 4-H members have invited Glenville Elementary to join them at Dimond Park on March 12 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
To learn more about participating in 4-H in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, contact May McMann, 4-H program representative at firstname.lastname@example.org or (925) 646-6543. To find a UC Cooperative Extension 4-H club near you, visit http://4h.ucanr.edu/Get_Involved/County.
For more than 100 years, the University of California Cooperative Extension researchers and educators have been drawing on local expertise to conduct agricultural, environmental, economic, youth development and nutrition research that helps California thrive. UC Cooperative Extension is part of the University of California's systemwide Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Learn more at ucanr.edu.