This MLK Day, CommunityGrows joined the African-American Arts and Culture Complex (AAACC) to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the 2019 Day of Service. The event began at the AAACC with opening remarks from co-Executive Directors Melonie and Melorra Green, speakers Mayor Breed and District 5 Supervisor Vallie Brown, a spoken word performance by Arvaughn Williams, and AAACC’s very own Bushmama Africa, who called on “the ancestors to create a cover of protection on us and reverence for our ancestors” (AAACC website). The morning set the tone for the rest of the day as volunteers split off into groups to work on service projects in the neighborhood.
This year, over 40 volunteers came out to work on maintenance and beautification projects at Buchanan Mall, the Fillmore mini-park, and the AAACC parking lot and garden plots. Volunteers also were involved with a letter writing campaign to political prisoners and some joined artist Kristine Mays on a community art project (see her art installation, Brutally Soft, at AAACC Jan 17-March 24). Everyone did an amazing job and we are so grateful to all of the volunteers.
Following the volunteer portion of the day was a (well deserved) community lunch. For the afternoon portion of the day, the AAACC had two film screenings for volunteers to learn more about political prisoners Mumia Abu-Jamal and Assata Shakur. Thank you to the presenters who started and facilitated the discussion.
A huge shout-out to Pearci and the staff at AAACC for hosting this event, and thank you to all the volunteers who took time to come out and work with us. We appreciate your support and commitment to community.
“Today in the garden it was bright and sunny and so I was happy” – 4th grade student during garden reflection at the end of class.
We are so grateful to our wonderful partners, dedicated staff, curious students, enthusiastic parents, advocates in the Green Team, generous supporters, and all of our committed volunteers!
We couldn’t do this type of work without people like you! On behalf of our students and staff, we thank you all for supporting our programs this past year! Here are our highlights from 2018 and things we’re looking forward to in 2019!
Anna Luberoff / Garden Programs Manager
Highlight of 2018: During one class, a butterfly just landed so perfectly and gently on a kid’s hand. The look of awe and delight on his face was magical, and the whole class just froze in this perfect moment to witness a miracle. When it flew off, it felt like a spell was broken – like we had all been part of something truly beautiful and mysterious.
Looking Forward to in 2019: Digging deeper with my 4th and 5th graders into how our garden operates as part of a larger food system. I am excited to talk and engage with them more about the role the garden plays in our school, our community, our neighborhood, and our city, and to push them to think critically about the limitations of our current food systems.
I am also excited to have the BEETS working on and activating the Buchanan Mall I have a lot of hopes and dreams for the space and can’t wait to see how Debbie and the BEETS transform it!
Yaya Persing / Garden and Nutrition Educator
Highlight of 2018: finding a snail in the garden with five Kindergarteners who were unable to contain their excitement. They got the rest of their class so that we could observe the snail’s traits together for a while. Someone spontaneously started to imitate the snails movements, which seamlessly gave way to calling out other animals and moving like them too. One unsuspecting snail gave us all 30 minutes of awe and giggles in the garden. Kids are the coolest.
Looking Forward to in 2019: Buchanan Mall community events we are planning, especially Valentine’s day in the mall. Love is like the plants in our garden: resilient, it’s everywhere once you start looking, sometimes you can’t see it but it’s just getting ready to bloom, and we can all be part of it!!!
Emily Dial / Garden and Nutrition Educator
Highlight of 2018: serving salad to students, teachers, and staff on salad days has been a definite highlight. Everyone gets so excited and it’s great to see students try to identify foods that grow in the garden.
Looking Forward to in 2019:I can’t wait to meet and teach the kindergarten through 3rd grade students at John Muir! I’m sure they have plenty to teach me as well.
Debbie Harris / BEETS Program Manager
Highlight of 2018:
-Establishing a full crew before 2019. We have ten students enrolled from 4 different high schools;
-Bringing the BEETS to work with YAX and Kaili Gordan on the Mobile Meditation Pavilion;
-Meeting with Citizen Film to help plan events on Buchanan Mall.
Looking Forward to in 2019:
– The BEETS camping trip
– Alcatraz Garden tour
– Youth Speaks
Karen Lally / Community Engagement Coordinator
Highlight of 2018: The MLK Jr. Day of Service volunteer event. It was fun to work with the African American Arts and Culture Complex, Citizen Film, and 3.9 Art Collective doing projects with the volunteers in the garden. There were performances, different vol. stations, art projects, and a community lunch at the end. Plus it was a beautiful day!
Looking Forward to in 2019: This year I’m looking forward to community workdays, salad days in the garden, and meeting new folks as they come through our volunteer program!
Kelly ErnstFriedman / Executive Director
Highlight of 2018: Meeting and getting to know prospective BEETS in the group interview. Interviews can be nerve wracking but Debbie created a welcoming and fun space for the teens to get to know each and learn about the program. It was really inspiring to hear what drew each of them to apply and what they hoped to accomplish in the next few months and also later in life. It was also really awesome to see how well they connected with each other, even though they were meeting for the first time.
Looking Forward to in 2019: Young people really do have so much to teach us and I can’t wait to get to know the BEET cohort better and see what they will accomplish this year. We have a lot of exciting opportunities to connect with residents on the Buchanan Mall and at Koshland Garden, and I think these teens are going to do an amazing job connecting with the community and sharing what all they are learning about food and environmental equity.
“I want to be kind and protect all of the creatures in the garden! I love creatures!” — a student who affectionately referred to all insects in the garden as “creatures” and who may, one day, be an entomologist.
Fun in the Sun
CommunityGrows had a wonderful summer! We enjoyed working with youth from partner programs including the Village Project, Up on Top, Magic Zone, Willie Mays, Western Addition Beacon, Crissy Field Center, Buchanan YMCA, and Hayward Rec. We look forward to an eventful Fall!
“At the beginning of class I was afraid of bugs! I’m not afraid anymore” — one student’s personal highlight following a garden class.
In total, we worked with about 120 students, learning about the life-cycle of plants, how to create healthy snacks, and harvesting beet plants for our BEETS Red Velvet Cake ice cream flavor at Salt and Straw!
A special thank you to all of our partners, volunteers, and educators who made this summer a success!
Summer is now upon us! As educators have come to know, the warm weather signals not only some well deserved vacation time, but also an opportunity to catch up with projects that were put on the back burner during the busy school year. Last week, two teams from Morgan Stanley volunteered with CommunityGrows staff to help us out with our summer projects in the gardens at Rosa Parks and Buchanan Mall.
The day, which started out chilly and overcast, brightened up just in time for the start of the workday! During introductions, the two teams got to know each other with a creative icebreaker that tested both a person’s observations and descriptive skills as well as their artistic ability. In pairs of two, each person was asked to describe an object in nature to their partner who, in turn, was asked to draw the object being described to them. This exercise, one we also use in garden classes to help students focus and sharpen their own observation skills, often produces some interesting — and in some cases, entertaining — pieces of artwork.
Following introductions, the large crew was broken down into two task forces. The first team headed over to the gardens at Rosa Parks Elementary School, where in-school garden lessons are taught. During the course of the day this team harvested vegetables, weeded the garden beds, turned the compost bins, and helped with general maintenance and planting projects. And they did an awesome job!
The other team remained at Buchanan Mall working on beautification projects. In addition to planting, weeding, watering, and picking up trash, this team also created journals for the students who will be joining us for the summer session. Students use these journals to draw and label plants and to reflect on their time in the garden. The volunteers even added their own creative flair to the journals, taking clippings from the nearby plants to make the journals special for the students. Everything looked beautiful!
In addition to their time and energy in the garden, Morgan Stanley also raised funds for our BEETS (Band of Environmentally Educated and Employable Teens) program. As a group, their donation will go to support and cover the stipend of one BEETS member during the upcoming fall session.
On behalf of the staff at CommunityGrows, we want to thank Morgan Stanley for their support and engagement in both our programs and this workday! The gardens look wonderful, and their actions have set the stage for another great year with our students.
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 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.
Thank you, Adrian and Melissa! We wish you both the best!
“Positive engagement with the environment is proven to have lasting effects on children’s physical and mental health, and we want to ensure that all kids have the same chance at being healthy and pursuing their dreams.”
— Kelly ErnstFriedman, CommunityGrows Executive Director
Consistent, free access to safe outdoor spaces and education
We’re curbing Nature Deficit Disorder — the idea that there are negative behavioral and emotional effects from spending less time in nature — one garden-based class at a time.
Lasting effects on physical and mental health
“What I really like is when we get to water the plants, eat some berries, and just walk around, get to know the place, and feel that nothing could harm me. I feel like I’m meant to be there.”
– 5th Grader
All youth can be healthy, eco-literate leaders
“The garden represents a place for growth and new beginnings. Like the 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.”
We are so grateful and excited to be awarded a 5-year grant from the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families!
This substantial grant will support our Seed to Mouth Garden Education Program, which teaches environmental and nutritional education using gardens and kitchens as classrooms. Through hands-on, project-based lessons in gardening and cooking, children in K-5th grade practice STEAM-related skills while increasing their physical, emotional, and social health.
At Community Grows, we aim to support the youth in our community who have limited options for safe and educational in-school, after-school, and summer outdoor programs. We are countering a lack of green spaces, parks, and gardens in San Francisco’s historically underserved neighborhoods — which can make it challenging for kids to engage with and learn about the natural world — by building learning gardens in school and community spaces.
Our classes are rooted in the benefits of experiential learning. Students begin with Garden Classes focused on environmental education, with the garden filling the role of both a classroom and a teaching aid. Lesson plans are customized for each age group and encourage observation, investigation, research, testing and presenting.
As each session goes on, instructors begin to incorporate the science of cooking and nutrition using produce that the youth have grown. Lessons cover the impact of food on our bodies and minds, and basic skills such as reading a recipe and using kitchen tools. Then students put their knowledge into practice in the garden or kitchen for more hands-on learning!
We believe that when youth are healthy, safe and supported they become catalysts for positive, lasting change.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017 was an amazing night to celebrate 23 years of CommunityGrows and Barbara Wenger’s upcoming retirement as founder and Executive Director.
The African American Arts and Culture Complex (AAACC) was abuzz with activity from early morning, setting up the Hall of Culture and firming up last minute details. Barbara Fujimoto, former Advisory Board member, donated the beautiful flowers and huge pumpkins for our decorations (thank you Barb!). By 4pm a few of our BEETS (Band of Environmentally Educated and Employable Teens), Eluis, Jennifer, Vihn, and Michelle, arrived with Advisory Board members Jaromy Schmidt, Liz Holt, Catheline Leung, Maricel Guinto, Jessica Jauw, and Christina Mathis to volunteer with setup and our silent auction. Staff and VISTA employees Karen Lally and Laura Witzig also did a lot of behind the scenes work.
Sophie Constantinou, Partner/Director of Citizen Film, arrived to set up the sound and video work with Kevin Myrick, Director of Synergy Moon and sound director for the AAACC. Name tags were laid out……and delicious food from La Mediterranee arrived. the spread included hummus, organic green salad, falafel, spinach and feta phyllo, rice pilaf, chicken pomegranate, and grilled veggies with tofu. Jaromy Schmidt, our Advisory Board co-chair and Starbucks District Manager, brought delicious cake pops and homemade cupcakes with the help of Liz Holm, also an Advisory Board member and Dual Store Manager at Starbucks.
Over the past few weeks Barbara had been dreaming about all the people that were invited to the party—friends she’d made over the past 23 years. These were friends from her past, from former employees to friends from the neighborhood. There were friends from Hayes Valley, John Muir and Rosa Parks Elementary Schools, the San Francisco Zen Center, youth organizations, partners, City dignitaries and employees, the Tides Center (CommunityGrows’ fiscal sponsor), consultants, funders, and supporters of CommunityGrows. So many of these people showed up to celebrate with her. It was truly a celebration of life!
Barbara thanked the AAACC staff and their two new Executive Directors, twins Melora and Melonie Green, for hosting the evening.
The night was about reconnecting, cultivating and supporting the future of CommunityGrows. Along the walls of the Hall of Culture event space, photos of over 150 of our BEETS teen program participants reflected ten years of the program, as well as highlighting some of the 1,300 youth we serve each year. Here are some guests from the evening…
Will Newsom was our Master of Ceremonies, introducing everyone and keeping the program moving along. Speakers came to offer their praise and stories about Barbara, including President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, London Breed; Director of Public Works, Mohammed Nuru; Director of the Human Rights Commission, Sheryl Davis; and General Manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, Phil Ginsberg. It was an honor to have them there.
One of the highlights of the evening was the music by Con Brio lead man, Ziek McCarter.
Ziek came to us in 2011 as one of our BEETS. He was a very shy and introspective guy. Soon after being a BEET, we hired him onto our staff to be a Garden Educator at Rosa Parks Elementary. Music being his passion, he soon broke out with Con Brio, which is now one of the premier rock, pop, and soul bands in San Francisco and the world. They go on tours through Europe, Australia, and Japan (where they are number 8 on the pop charts)! We have deep love for him and were so happy that he and his bandmate came out to play for us that night.
Barbara introduced the staff and Advisory Board of CommunityGrows and our new Executive Director, Kelly ErnstFriedman, who has been with CommunityGrows for the past three years as Director of Programs and Deputy Director. Kelly has a decade of experience working with nonprofits increasing program performance and impact, grant writing, staff management. She has a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from American University in Washington DC. Since she’s been with us, she’s expanded programming evaluations, streamlined and strengthened our operations through better record keeping, financial reporting, and engagement with the Board. With the help of our Board members, she secured two AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers last year, increasing our staff capacity by 80 hours a week! We know Kelly will take CommunityGrows to even greater heights!
Barbara also thanked the Koshland Family who gifted us Koshland Park and the Community Learning Garden over 44 years ago. This park and garden continues to be our home-base site for John Muir Elementary School day classes, as well as after-school and summer programs. It is the site of the Western Addition Peace Wall, a seven-year project that honors the families and youth of this neighborhood. The Koshland Family has continued to support our presence in the park and garden and we owe them our deepest gratitude.
Another highlight of the evening, introduced by CommunityGrows Director of Programs, Melissa Tang, was a surprise video done by Citizen Film in honor of Barbara, thanks to Sophie Constantinou.
Many of Barb’s dearest staff and friends talked about the impact she made on the lives of so many people. It was a beautiful tribune which brought tears to our eyes. Here are more guests from the evening…
Finally, Barbara tried to answer one of the burning questions of the night. “What am I going to do when I retire?” Here is what she said: “While I’m happy to be leaving this organization with a young, smart and devoted crew, I want to be outdoors more, as well as pursue the visual arts. I envision walking in a forest as a park ranger or being an assessor of our national parks and old lodges throughout the United States. I also hope to be creating and studying art. If anyone has leads of a part-time job doing these things, let me know.”
An amazing crew of Advisory Board members and others stayed to clean up and put the Hall of Culture back to it original self.
It was a night to remember and one joyously celebrated. Thank you everyone! For more photos, most taken by our gracious photographer, Judith Keenan, see our Flickr Photostream here.
Speakers: London Breed (President, SF Board of Supes), Mohammed Nuru (Director, Dept of Public Works), Sheryl Davis (Director, SF Human Rights Commission), Phil Ginsberg (General Manager, SF Rec & Parks Dept)
Food: La Mediterranee and Starbucks
Silent Auction Donors — Thanks to the work of Bob Barnwell and our amazing Advisory Board: Last Minute Gear – gift certificate, Melissa and Mike Mulcahy and Stuart and Jim Michler – wine tasting weekend in Sonoma, Suppenkuche – dinner for two, Stacks – breakfast for two, SF Symphony – two tickets, SF Opera – two tickets, Yoga Tree – five-class pass, AASC – two season subscriptions, Legion of Honor/de Young – two VIP passes, Urban Putt – two games of mini-golf, Peggy Chipkin – one Feldenkrais lesson, Bluxome Street Winery – wine tasting at Ghirardelli Square, Rochioli – set of wines
Event Space: African American Arts & Culture Complex
Donors: Thanks to all attendees, and to those who donated but could not attend.
Wednesday September 6, 2017, CommunityGrows held its second annual fundraiser at Joey the Cat, an event space and arcade game rental company in the Mission District. The event was sponsored by Kaiser-Permanente and it was a blast! Our wonderful Advisory Board put tons of work into raffle prizes and invited many of their friends. We raised over $10K and made lots of new friends. Our CommunityGrows Advisory Board did an amazing job reaching out to their networks for tickets and contacting organizations for raffle donations (we almost doubled our raffle tickets total from last year) and working the room to encourage support (special shout out to Abby Blodgett for doing a fabulous job at running the tournaments)!Some of our favorite moments were Will Newsom’s pop-a-shot challenge that fell to Christina in short order……and the “Santa bag” of baguettes that got distributed to a lot of happy attendees and Mission residents on the walk home. Great job, everyone! For more photos check out our Flickr Photostream here.
On November 18, 2016 three of our staff members flew to Milwaukee to present at the Growing Power Conference hosted by Will Allen. The theme of the conference was “Let’s Scale It Up! Growing Food and Farmers: Best Practices in Growing, Distribution and Community Building.” This post shares some their reflections. Crystal Jones, Cha’Shay Woldridge and Melissa Tang (here with Will Allen) presented CommunityGrows’ programs & model on scaling up through education. For a small community-based nonprofit like ours, scaling may look different but still has a large impact in building our future leaders in the community. Through educating youth we are able to build a connection with growing food, eating healthy food, cooking food and creating a ripple effect throughout the health of the community. Our model creates trust, rapport and consistency with youth as our programs teach youth multiple times a year. We also prioritize and are intentional around hiring a diverse staff, especially from the community. Cha’Shay spoke about her experience in the BEETS program and why she decided to come back as a staff member. We wrapped up our presentation with a cooking demo of hummus pinwheels! We also got to share the day with our former CommunityGrows Garden Educator, Serena Padilla, who now lives near Milwaukee and joined us at the conference. When recollecting about her experience at Growing Power, Crystal Jones, our Seed-to-Mouth Cooking Coordinator, felt without a doubt, that this conference was the most multicultural conference she’d ever been to and had the pleasure of being a part of. “Living in a nation where there is often so much that divides one from one’s neighbor, there was something very remarkable seeing people from every walk of life and countless nationalities, come together for the same purpose. That purpose being, the strength building and betterment of our communities, our future, and our world. Listening to speaker after speaker and interacting with conference attendees, I could tell one thing to be true – that these people (myself included), had come here to talk, listen, learn and be inspired – sure. But more than that, I could tell that I was in a room full of doers. People who would walk away from the conference and put into practice many of the tools they gleaned.”“One of the most beneficial bits of information I returned home with, was from the “Political Plate” discussion, wherein governmental resources that aid in environmental work and nutrition education locally and globally were shared. I am excited to see how CommunityGrows might be able to make use of these resources and further the work that we do in San Francisco.”
Everyone at CommunityGrows was excited to share this conference experience with our Garden Assistant & BEET alumna, Cha’Shay Woldridge. This was the first time she would speak at a conference, first time flying, and first time in Milwaukee. She spoke proudly of her role in the community as a Garden Assistant and offered new insights on how to support communities like the Western Addition. One thing Cha’Shay took away from the conference was “that there are people in this world who care about where their food comes from. They care about making the world a better and healthier place. They are giving people a chance to learn and experience all these new things. We have a voice and it’s getting out there that your body and what you put inside of it is an important thing to know about.” Cha’Shay also commented, “I want to learn about aquaculture, composting, food distribution, soil reclamation, horticulture, and sustainability. This conference inspired me to continue teaching and reminded me how important my job is to me and the community.”