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Alternative high school garden gutted

By Erika Kelly Daily Planet Correspondent
Tuesday August 14, 2001

The garden is now barren where ripe tomatoes, strawberry vines and corn stalks once grew, but educators at the Berkeley Alternative High School already have plans to replant the garden removed by the school district last week in an effort to control rodents in the area.  

Rats have infested the city-owned housing adjacent to the alternative school, prompting the city to call for a cleanup at the homes, the school and the neighboring King Child Development Center.  

But educators argue that the rodent abatement project should not have targeted the school garden. Removing debris in the area would have been sufficient, said Travis Smith, garden resource team leader who works with student gardens throughout the school district.  

Smith said garden produce showed no signs of rodent damage, countering the city’s contention that the garden was providing food for the rodents. 

“Removing the trash and wood stacks was a good first step. I think they would have found that, along with trapping (rodents) in the sewers, would have improved the (situation),” said Smith. 

In addition to the school garden, an abandoned garden at the preschool was also removed. Work crews also carted off an old dumpster, a stack of wood and a pile of mattresses used by homeless people. They also mowed down an unkempt grassy area between the schools and the homes. 

The cleanup was part of a citywide effort to eliminate harborage – debris and vegetation that creates shelter – for rodents. 

“In an effort to jump on the problem, we on the city side initiated a cleanup on city properties. And we called on our colleagues in the school district to look at their buildings and to remove any debris and anything that would harbor rodents,” said Arrietta Chakos, chief of staff in the City Manager’s Office. 

Berkeley Alternative High School Principal Alex Palau is satisfied that the school has addressed the city’s rodent concerns and plans to replant the garden once school begins. 

“We need to make sure that whatever concerns there are around rats are met. I think we’ve gone that extra step,” said Palau. “I think we’ve addressed their concerns and hopefully it’s a closed issue.” 

Communication between the city and the school could have been better, observed Palau, who pointed out how difficult it is to get in touch with school administrators and teachers in the summer months. 

When Palau learned of the city’s plan he arranged to meet with city officials at the school to discuss what should be done with the garden. So he and Smith were surprised to arrive at the school last week to find workers already beginning to remove the plants. 

Along with the plants, the cleanup crew planned to destroy the tiered wooden boxes that formed the structure of the garden. But, in what Palau and Smith characterize as a compromise deal, they took the plants but left behind the wooden structure. 

Although the garden is now barren, Smith is already busy growing plants for students to transplant to the garden. 

The garden is part of the district-wide Nutrition Network Program, which offers teachers and students hands-on opportunities to learn about nutrition and science. 

“There are some projects that are serving a greater purpose, and I think this is one of those projects. It serves a nutritional purpose and an educational one, and we’re going to hold onto it,” Palau said.