Garden party honors
If Berkeley native David Brower’s message was to reclaim the earth through common action, then the late conservationist’s soul was appeased on Saturday.
At a day-long event honoring Brower’s legacy, two community gardens on Sacramento Street in southwest Berkeley became gathering places for residents of all ages to have a healthy lunch, get their faces painted, learn how bees make honey, and most importantly, plant a crop of vegetables that will find its way to local dinner tables this fall.
Billed as the 2nd Annual Brower Day by the Brower-formed Earth Island Institute, the day’s co-sponsor was Strong Roots, a decade-old organization that encourages youth to get their hands dirty– in the garden.
Brower died in October of 2000 at the age of 88, and with the exception of his granddaughter Rosemary, who was helping local beekeeper Khaled Almaghafi sell some honey Saturday, not many at the event knew the man. Most, though, had heard of him, and some, like Sherri Crighton of Martinez, came quite a distance to pay tribute. Along with her 20-month-old son, Nolan, Crighton was watering a new row of tomato plants that had been planted just that morning.
Representing Brower’s generation was Berkeley Vice-Mayor Maudelle Shirek, 91, long-time activist and political representative in southwest Berkeley. However, Shirek refused to speak as a politician on this day. Donning a simple straw hat, Shirek told the Daily Planet, “I’m just a farmer.”
She proceeded to talk at some length about her childhood growing up on an Arkansas farm, and smiled when recounting the vegetables and fruits that were raised by her family: peas, butter beans, peaches, apples, plums, berries and the like.
“It’s very helpful (for these children) to be connected to the earth. That’s what’s missing now,” she said.
Reinforcing Shirek’s statements about the positive impact of the garden on the locals, Strong Roots’ Shyaam Shabaka said, “before we started here, this land had two and a half tons of glass and garbage on it. Today we are planting tomatoes, peppers, corn, mustard and collard greens, turnips. The house just across the street a few years ago was the worst crack house in the neighborhood, where two people got killed and one person was shot 10 times.”
The land was donated to Strong Roots by local resident Bill Beasley.
Shabaka says the garden has helped “turn the community around” and that one of the young people who once worked with Strong Roots now has a civil engineering degree from UCLA.
The fruits of the first harvest will go to a willing audience. “Most of what we grow here will be donated to the New Light Senior Center and other senior centers, who can appreciate fresh organic vegetables,” said Shabaka. Shabaka is working on developing a similar project with the Earth Island Institute in Richmond.
Neighbors Michele Morgan and Joseph Camacho, who moved to Woolsey
Street just three years ago, lent their hands at making home-made ice cream. They, too, noted the impact of Strong Roots youth team on the once-vacant lot.
“It’s fascinating to do this in honor of a ‘conservation celebrity,” said Morgan. “There was nothing here before.”
A strong sun shone on plants and planters alike as the day progressed. Lunch plates were put down and the bending, digging, planting and watering began in earnest.
Oakland resident Raul Garcia, who came to Strong Roots via the East Bay Conservation Corps, forced a smile and said, “It will be a long hot summer, but it’s worth it. It’s fun and I enjoy doing it.”
If David Brower was looking down on the day’s events, no doubt he was smiling, too.