All posts by Karen Lally

The BEETS: Not Just Gardeners

BEETS Build 2

In addition to their culinary, resume designing, gardening, and teaching skills, the BEETS added construction to their accomplishments this month!

BEETS Build 1

Our Rosa Parks Garden Educator Anna led the BEETS in the build, explaining about how ensure the wood was flush and how to properly use the drill.

BEETS Build 6
BEETS Build 5

For many, this was a new experience — but for others, their skill at construction earned them the nickname Drill Sergeant (we appreciate the pun).

BEETS Build 10

Did you know that redwood is the best wood to use on raised garden boxes? It is less susceptible to rot and can last as long as 20 years.

BEETS Build 3

Though the planter was complete, the work was not done yet!

BEETS Build 7
BEETS Build 4

The BEETS team then shoveled compost and soil and moved it into the newly finished planter box, in preparation for the following week’s community planting.

BEETS Build 8
BEETS Build 9

All in all, it was another productive day outside for the BEETS!

We want to give a special thanks to Broadmoor Landscape Supply in South San Francisco for donating the compost, to Ashby Lumber for donating the lumber, and to U-Haul for donating a truck for the afternoon.

CG Volunteers: Always in Bloom

Buchanan Mall Workday – 6.9.2017
Buchanan Mall Workday – 6.9.2017

In honor of Volunteer Appreciation Week, we want to give a shout-out and a thank you to all of the neighbors, partners, businesses, and friends who have supported CG this past year. We could not do our work without your help, and we appreciate all of our volunteers for their time, their energy, and their commitment to our programs.

Read on to learn more about our volunteers and the different ways to get involved at CommunityGrows.

Buchanan Mall Workday – 4.14.2018
Buchanan Mall Workday – 4.14.2018

Program Volunteers

This year CommunityGrows has had the pleasure of working with 12 dedicated and knowledgeable program volunteers. These volunteers commit at least seven weeks of their time to supporting our programs and can be found in our gardens, offices, and kitchens working on projects that help to support our Environmental Education, Seed to Mouth, and BEETS programs.

CommunityGrows is grateful to have such committed volunteers working with us week after week cooking, weeding, watering, teaching, and working on special projects with our staff and students. Thank you all for your hard work!


Rosa Parks Salad Day – 3.14.2018

Li started volunteering with CommunityGrows this January, helping to maintain the AAACC Garden and assisting with monthly salad days at Rosa Parks Elementary School.

Perhaps most importantly to me, though, was the inspiration and support I drew from the BEETS as I prepared and applied for grad school in a new field — a scary risk for someone in the middle of their career. The struggle of studying for tests, researching scholarships, and searching to find the right path forward in life was made easier because I was able to share and learn from the BEETS, who were all facing similar challenges.  

— Alana, BEETS Program Volunteer 2017-2018

Corporate Volunteers

In addition to our individual volunteers, CommunityGrows is fortunate to also have the support of local businesses and companies committed to giving back to community. This past year GAP, Bain & Co., Morgan Stanley, and Starbucks all participated in one or more workday events in our gardens. Their hard work and energy during the summer and early fall helped us to set the students up for a successful year. We appreciate their support!

Buchanan Mall Workday – 4.14.2018
Buchanan Mall Workday – 4.14.2018

Weekend Warriors

Finally, we want to highlight all of our weekend workday and special event volunteers who donate their time to move soil, plant vegetables, pick-up trash, turn compost, and do a host of other jobs in our community garden spaces. We couldn’t do it without you!


Photo: Gateway High School Workday – 9.29.2017

MLK Day Workday – 1.15.2018
MLK Day Workday – 1.15.2018
Buchanan Mall Workday – 6.9.2017
Buchanan Mall Workday – 6.9.2017

We are so appreciative for the support and community involvement that you all have shown us. Thank you to all of our volunteers, both past and present!

Buchanan Mall Workday – 4.14.2018
Buchanan Mall Workday – 4.14.2018

A special shout-out to Citizen Film for hosting the latest Buchanan Mall workday on Saturday, April 14th, and to SF Rec & Park, the USF McCarthy Center, the Rosa Parks Senior Center, and all of the volunteers who came out to support and beautify the Mall.

Goodbye to Adrian and Melissa

Adrian and Melissa at a BEETS Orientation

After many years with CommunityGrows, we are saying goodbye to two of our wonderful staff members, Adrian and Melissa. 

While we are sad to see them go, we are so grateful to them both for all of their hard work and dedication! Read on to learn about their time at CG.

The Many Hats of Adrian


Adrian wore many hats at CommunityGrows: first as a garden educator, then as a cooking instructor for our Seed to Mouth program, and ultimately overseeing our sites and environmental education programming as Garden Programs Manager.

He took an active and sincere interest in the well-being of his students and encouraged them throughout each session, making him well liked by both the students and staff at John Muir. He shared with us the following story from one of his lessons:

Once, at a Magic Zone class, we harvested fingerling potatoes from the garden. Mwane, a second grader, told me that he was going to go home and cook them with his mother and that they would be the best potatoes in the world.  I told him that he had done a great job helping to grow them and that maybe one day he would be a gardener, which I intended to be a career suggestion.  He looked at me very seriously and replied confidently,  “I already am.”

It is moments like these that demonstrate the confidence that our program is instilling in our youth. These moments are hard to quantify in terms of metrics but are truly priceless in their measurement of the impact we are making.

— Adrian Almquist

His presence at Koshland Garden as both educator and gardener will be missed!


In addition to their roles at CommunityGrows, both Melissa and Adrian were mentors at John Muir Elementary, kept active with the Koshland community gardeners, and often worked with volunteers at weekend events, making Koshland Park and Learning Garden a beautiful and relaxing place for everyone to enjoy.

Melissa in Action

Melissa and a goat
Melissa New Lib 2015
BEETS Pie Ranch 2016
Melissa BEETS Ropes Course

Melissa was also deeply involved at both CommunityGrows and John Muir Elementary, having led our BEETS teen program for four years before becoming Director of Programs in 2017.

Her dedication and leadership of the BEETS program inspired students to set and meet personal and professional goals. At the end of each session, Melissa asked the teens to reflect on their experience participating in the program. 

To me, the garden represents a place for growth and new beginnings. It’s a place where someone can go to learn something new and meet new people. What I enjoyed most was watching things change. I liked seeing how much progress plants make even if we don’t usually see them growing in reality. Like garden, our lives are constantly changing. We don’t recognize change in ourselves but it’s there. We just need to look back to see how much we’ve grown. I think I’ve really improved on my ability to express my opinions. I’ve learned that being part of a group requires a lot of listening and observing, which I’ve improved on greatly. Ultimately, I’ve learned that working doesn’t necessarily need to be just “working” if you find the balance of friendship and responsibility.

— Gene, 2016-2017 BEETS Participant

Garden reflections from Melissa’s students showed steady growth and a shift of perspective when compared to their responses from the start of the program. Her guidance and support made a huge impact during Melissa’s time with CommunityGrows.

Melissa pumpking carginv 2017
Melissa nastertiums
Summer 2013 graduation
Melissa w kids 2013 2

Thank you, Adrian and Melissa! We wish you both the best!

6 Inspiring Women in Science for Women’s History Month

women's history month

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’d like to share the stories of some inspiring women whose contributions have advanced the fields of STEM, biology, nutrition, childhood development, and environmental sciences. We applaud their hard work and commitment to bettering both their communities and the world!

If you want to learn more about these bold women in science, just click on their photos.


Flemmie P. Kittrell (1904–1980)

Flemmie P. Kittrell was an academic and a world-traveller, with her research on nutrition, home economics, and childhood development taking her international, most notably to Liberia and India. Her research in Liberia on the effects of malnutrition uncovered a “hidden hunger,” where a person could be full and hungry while still lacking the necessary vitamins and nutrients for development and health. Kittrell was an active member of the American Association of University Women and the first black woman to receive a PhD in nutrition.

Photo: via Wikipedia (, Fair Use Rationale

By Smelter Mountain, Flickr, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Isatou Ceesay (1972–Present)

Isatou Ceesay, named the “Queen of Recycling in the Gambia,” has been educating women on waste management and recycling for 17 years and, in 1997, came together with other women in her village to start the Njau Recycling and Income Generating Group. Their story is shared in One Plastic Bag, a book that illustrates how Ceesay and four women creatively recycled trash to make their village cleaner and healthier while earning extra income from their recycled products. Ceesay later co-founded the Women’s Initiative Gambia and won the TIAW “Difference Maker” award in Washington D.C. in 2012.

Photo: Smelter Mountain, Flickr, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“Uniformity is not nature’s way; diversity is nature’s way.” 

— Vandana Shiva, environmental activist, author, and food sovereignty advocate

By Eclectek (Own work) [GFDL (

Winona LaDuke (1959–Present)

Winona LaDuke is a writer, activist, and public speaker well known for her environmental advocacy and social justice work. In 2007, LaDuke was inducted in the National Women’s Hall of Fame for her life’s work in conservation, sustainable development, and renewable energy, as well as her dedication to recovering and preserving Native land and traditional practices. To date, LaDuke has authored seven books, most recently The Winona LaDuke Chronicles: Stories from the Front Lines in the Battle for Environmental Justice in 2016.

Photo: Eclectek (Own work) [GFDL ( 

By Deutsche Bundesbank, Frankfurt am Main, Germany (500 DM banknote) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717)

Maria Sibylla Merian was a entomologist, naturalist, and artist known for her illustrations of insects and plants during the 1600s. On her expedition to Suriname, South America in 1699, she and her youngest daughter spent several years observing and sketching the native plants and animals in the region. During her lifetime, Merian studied the life-cycles and maturation of many different plant and animals species in Europe and South America, published several volumes of her own illustrations, and has gone on to inspire naturalists and scientists with her observations.

Photo: Deutsche Bundesbank, Frankfurt am Main, Germany (500 DM banknote) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

— Rachel Carson, marine biologist and writer of Silent Spring

From: Psychology's Feminist Voices

Mamie Phipps Clark (1917–1983)

Mamie Phipps Clark was a social psychologist whose early career focused largely on child development and race consciousness in children. While studying at Howard University, Mamie met her husband Kenneth Bancroft Clark, and the two of them would later collaborate on the famous “Doll Test” experiment, used during the Brown v. Board of Education case to show the harmful effects of segregation on children’s self-esteem. In 1946, Clark became the Director of Northside Center in Harlem, which provided psychological services to the city’s minority groups, where she remained until retiring in 1979. 

Photo: via Psychology’s Feminist Voices

Antônio Cruz/ABr (Agência Brasil [1]) via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 3.0 br (]

Wangari Maathai (1940–2011)

Wangari Maathai is a writer, political activist, environmentalist, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, awarded to her in 2004 for “’her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace’, the first African woman and environmentalist to win the prize.” In 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an organization which plants trees to support environmental conservation and fight against deforestation. In addition to founding and coordinating GBM, Maathai authored four books, was a member and later chairman of the National Council of Women of Kenya, and was a social activist, serving on the board of many different human rights and environmental organizations.  

Photo: Antônio Cruz/ABr (Agência Brasil [1])  [CC BY 3.0 br (], via Wikimedia Commons

“We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!”

— Wangari Maathai

BEETS Grow in Our Neighborhood

Buchanan Mall

Spring is in the air and, with all the sunshine, our gardens are flourishing! But the sun isn’t the only reason the gardens are looking so fresh — the BEETS have been out in the gardens planting, watering, weeding, and cleaning to make our spaces more healthy and inviting.


Who are the BEETS? Beyond our gardening and cooking programs for younger students, we also offer teens the chance to earn money as they learn life and job skills, experience nature, explore issues of food equity and environmental justice, and improve both their personal well-being and that of their neighborhood and communities.

But our BEETS program extends beyond just a paid after-school position: it’s an opportunity to become a part of a supportive team while working toward personal and professional goals.

Learn more about their stories from a volunteer’s perspective as Alana shares her experience working with the BEETS:

“Alongside the flourishing of the kale and fava beans we planted, I’ve witnessed a different kind of flourishing in the BEETS participants.”

As a volunteer with CommunityGrows’ young adults program, I joined the participants in tending local gardens to help plants grow. My greatest delight in being a part of the program, however, has been in watching the young adults themselves grow. And as I move on to my next chapter in my life, I’m grateful to look back and realize how much the BEETS have helped me grow.

Alongside the flourishing of the kale and fava beans we planted, I’ve witnessed a different kind of flourishing in the BEETS participants. One BEET, after gaining deeper insight into our food system through the program, decided to become a vegetarian. Another makes significant progress in improving her English, an important step toward her goal of becoming a computer programmer. A third inspires me as he continues to save up for a car and ultimately to become a mechanic. All of the BEETS exhibit maturity in following through on their responsibilities as well as thoughtfulness in their discussions.

“The BEETS introduced me to a beautiful side of San Francisco I had never seen before.”

I began volunteering with CommunityGrows to gain hands-on experience with urban agriculture and to give back to the community. To my surprise, the support I received through the BEETS program helped me expand into new areas of personal growth. The BEETS introduced me to a beautiful side of San Francisco I had never seen before. From tucked-away community gardens just blocks from my home, to the nationally-famous garden within the Giants’ Stadium at AT&T Park, alongside the BEETS I learned about the thriving urban agriculture community in San Francisco.

Perhaps most importantly to me, though, was the inspiration and support I drew from the BEETS as I prepared and applied for grad school in a new field – a scary risk for someone in the middle of her career. The struggle of studying for tests, researching scholarships, and searching to find the right path forward in life was made easier because I was able to share and learn from the BEETS, who were all facing similar challenges. Though I’m now moving on to get that degree the young adults motivated me to keep pursuing, I’ll carry with me the memories of these inspiring youth and the lessons they taught me.

— Alana, BEETS Program Volunteer 2017-18

BEETS Giants

We’d like to take a moment to appreciate all that Alana, BEETS Program Manager Osceola, and the BEETS themselves have accomplished through this session — from their work in the garden to cooking at the Giants Garden at AT&T Park, to touring Alcatraz, and helping teach younger students. This group has already had an active year, and it’s not over yet!

Yoga and Salad in the Lower Garden

Rosa Parks Students

Finding Inner Peas: Yoga in the Gardens

A new tradition has begun at Rosa Parks as students join Seed-to-Mouth Garden Educator, Annie, for weekly yoga sessions in the Lower Garden. The kids have fun choosing Yoga Pretzel cards for the group to achieve, cards which illustrate common yoga poses and encourage health and wellness for the body and mind.

Loving Salad From My Head To-ma-toes

Students at Rosa Parks were treated this month to an impromptu salad day thanks to all of the extra veggies in the gardens. Due to the warm weather and sunny days this Fall, the garden plots are thriving with excess produce filling the beds. Wanting to avoid waste, Annie was inspired to create a spontaneous salad treat, complete with homemade croutons she made the night before! Students loved the salad and the entire bowl was finished in just over 20 minutes.


Official Salad Days at Rosa Parks started up again this month with the support of the dedicated Green Team!

Four-Ingredient Homemade Croutons


  • 4 cups of cubed bread
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  • Preheat oven to 375 degree Fahrenheit.
  • In a bowl, combine cubed bread, garlic powder, and salt. Drizzle olive oil over bread while stirring. Stir well until bread is coated by all ingredients and olive oil is absorbed.
  • Spread bread cubes into an even layer on a sheet pan. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Good Times in the Garden

Besides yoga and salad days, students are also becoming involved in the Lower Garden by helping with watering, weeding, pruning, litter clean-up, and maintenance. Since the start of the school year, the gardens have transformed thanks to the time and energy put in by students, teachers, and staff. With the vibrant mural and the beautiful greens, the space has become a calming and welcoming place for the students to spend time.

What a Transformation!

July 2017


December 2017


#MLKDay of Service: Honoring Dr. King

Holiday Wreath and Card Making

Make it a day on, not a day off. This was the rallying phrase as thousands of people across the U.S. turned out on Monday, January 15th, to celebrate and honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy. The day of service began nearly 25 years ago, after Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act of 1994. The day is meant to honor the dedicated and passionate service that Dr. King gave to both his community and to the nation as a whole.

Corporation for National and Community Services. Leading the Day of Service efforts, the CNCS writes that the initiative “empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems, and moves us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community.”

Taking Part in the Celebration. On Monday, CommunityGrows joined the African American Arts and Culture Complex, Citizen Film, and 3.9 Art Collective for our own day of service. The morning started with breakfast and an amazing performance by Brandon Hughes titled, “Imagine King Was Here.” Following his performance, Acting Mayor London Breed gave a moving speech about the importance of taking ownership of and building up our communities. After some final remarks from the AAACC Co-Executive Directors Melonie and Melorra Green, volunteers divided into three groups to complete projects to beautify the community.


Community Projects. One group joined the 3.9 Art Collective to create art for seniors, one group joined Citizen Film to clean up and plant in the Buchanan Mall, and one group joined CommunityGrows to weed and lay stones in the AAACC garden. The day ended with a barbeque and social hour in the parking lot.

Photos: Sophie Constantinou at Citizen Film
Photos: Sophie Constantinou at Citizen Film
Photo: Sophie Constantinou at Citizen Film
Photo: Sophie Constantinou at Citizen Film

Thank You. We at CommunityGrows want to thank all the volunteers who showed up and continue to support our programs and organization! We also want to give a shout-out to Broadmoor Landscape Supply for donating the rocks for our garden and to the AAACC, Citizen Film, and 3.9 Art Collective for a successful event!

Thanks again to everyone who volunteered to serve the community!

Martin Luther King, Jr., from: Nobel Foundation ( [Public domain]. Wikimedia Commons.

Deck the Halls with Wreaths


Over the weekend neighbors and friends gathered together for the 14th annual wreath and card making event at the Hayes Valley South Community Room. Beautiful wreaths were created by all, with ribbon, trinkets, glitter, and bells adorning each and every one!


Joining the festivities were the BEETS (Band of Environmentally Educated and Employable Teens), a program designed to teach students ages 15-19 about environmental issues and help them to develop job skills.

While many will hang their wreaths on doors and walls this holiday season, some creative thinkers are now wearing holly-themed necklaces. Either way, the wreaths look great!


A special thanks to the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association for donating to make this event a success. It was a lovely afternoon with the wreaths, cards, cider, and good company. Thank you for all who attended and happy holidays!


See more photos from the event here!

Today Is #GivingTuesday


“Like plants, communities and people need support and care in order to grow. Life is like a plant, in that it never stops growing if it is cared for.”

— Summer BEETS Alum 2016

Here at CommunityGrows, we’ve had the privilege of serving and working with the Western Addition and Hayes Valley neighborhoods for 23 years. (Read our story below!)

And we couldn’t have done it without such incredibly generous and dedicated partners, neighbors, and friends in this community. To everyone who has worked with us in the past and present to fulfill the mission of CommunityGrows and to create these beautiful green spaces where all are welcome – thank you!

Today, on #GivingTuesday, we are asking you to support the right of low-income youth and youth of color in San Francisco to learn from the environment and enjoy the outdoors. Your donation will go toward supplies like seeds and garden tools, books, journals and science kits, stipends we provide to our BEETS students, and the continuation of our garden and cooking classes.

Our Story

Those of you who’ve met our Founder Barbara Wenger will have no doubt heard her favorite story to tell – how Koshland Community Park and Learning Garden came to be – and we love to keep sharing it, because it’s the kind that offers even more insight from the past with each telling.

Read on to learn about how Koshland Park and CommunityGrows were born together from a strong community and the support of a whole neighborhood – and about how we’ve spread our roots to empower its most vulnerable residents. 


“For six years my daughter attended the garden classes. [She] enjoyed getting to spend time at Koshland exploring the plants that grow there. It was the highlight of her week, and she talked about it a lot at home.”

— Shandra Butler, parent of a John Muir Elementary School alum

Creating Koshland

The story begins in 1973 after a fire swept through an apartment building on Page Street. Many residents wondered what would happen to the space where the once-large building now laid in ruins.

The Trust for Public Land, with the support of the generous Koshland family, stepped in and obtained the rights to the land. In the space, the Koshland family aspired to build a park to honor their father. With neighborhood residents’ input and support on the project, the park was opened in 1976 and was deemed the largest new park in San Francisco in over 40 years.

“I see firsthand the positive impact that their programming has on the students… [garden classes were] the most serene time of the day, where the students would find a calmness that can only be found by planting a seedling, measuring a pea pod, or filling a water can with a teammate.”

— Melinda Nokes, former Fourth Grade Teacher and Librarian at John Muir Elementary School


Working With the Community

As the ’80s and ’90s came along, violence and drug abuse rendered the park unsafe, and residents no longer felt comfortable accessing the space. But in response, neighbors and local organizations began working together to improve their community.

In this time CommunityGrows partnered with many groups in Hayes Valley, supporting the demolition of Central Freeway and the subsequent creation of Patricia’s Green Parkway, working with neighbors and community groups to renovate and reclaim parks (like the Rose-Page Mini Park), envisioning the Western Addition Peace Wall at Koshland Park with designs from residents and partners, supporting the construction and upkeep of the Buchanan Street Mall, and overseeing the renovation and transformation of the Koshland Community Park and Learning Garden in the early 2000s.

“To me, the garden represents a place for growth and new beginnings. I liked seeing how much progress plants make even if we don’t usually see them growing in reality. Like garden, our lives are constantly changing. We don’t recognize change in ourselves, but it’s there. We just need to look back to see how much we’ve grown.”

— 2016-2017 BEETS Alum


Youth Development Programs

Today, CommunityGrows’ mission is to cultivate healthy, eco-literate youth by growing gardens in low-income neighborhoods.

Through three (free!) interconnected programs, students ages 5–19 are able to learn in garden spaces and engage with the natural environment in the Environmental Education classes, they can put their gardening lessons to good use in the Seed-to-Mouth cooking and nutrition programs, and they can earn money while learning about green jobs and leadership skills by becoming members of the BEETS (Band of Environmentally Educated and Employable Teens) during their high school years.

CommunityGrows History Booklet

Timeline & Impact Booklet

Click here to download Barbara Wenger’s History of CommunityGrows booklet in PDF format!

Salad Days Are Back!


September is a month of beginnings – the beginning of the school year, the beginning of fall – and at John Muir Elementary School, it marked the beginning of our monthly Salad Days.

For those not familiar with Salad Days, the tradition began in 2015 as an initiative to give students access to fresh produce and to get them excited about eating healthy. Since John Muir students also participate in our Environmental Education classes, Salad Days allow them to be fully engaged in all the steps of the garden process: planting, cultivating, harvesting, and most importantly, eating!

Untitled design

Our founder Barbara Wenger says her earliest memories of Salad Day are of seeing CommunityGrows Garden Educators work to prepare the salads and then walk through the cafeteria during each grade’s shift. “The kids loved our Garden Educators and would always raise their hands for more salad!” In particular, students seem to really enjoy the apples and cucumbers mixed in the salads. The Italian dressing is also a crowd favorite with the kids and the teachers!


Adrian Almquist, Garden Programs Manager and Educator at John Muir, says that his favorite part about salad days are when kids come up to ask him for seconds.

Salad Days happen just once a month, but the youth we support are all about it. “It’s exciting when they get excited about salad,” says Melissa Tang, Director of Programs at CommunityGrows. “In the beginning of the school year, they aren’t always interested when you offer them salad. But then, towards the end of the school year, they are all in line with their trays.” It’s a great experience for both staff and students!

CommunityGrows is fortunate to have sponsors who generously donate to our monthly Salad Days. While students help grow produce through our Environmental Education classes, our Seed to Mouth programs create a bigger demand than our gardens can supply! This Fall, we want to give a shout out and say thank you to our partners at Heart of the City Farmer’s Market and our local Safeway on Webster Street for donating to our salad days. We deeply appreciate your help!