Summer break is a time for learning new skills, engaging with the community and enjoying nature.
And what better way to spend the season than working in a community garden? This week marked the end of the Environmental Justice Internship at Demonstration Gardens, an eight-week program that provided environmental literacy training to four high-school students. The interns, who ranged from 14-17 years old, spent 16 hours a week planting and creating projects that were featured in Demonstrations Garden—an independent organization that works in partnership with UC Hastings and is run by director Kasey Asberry. Students also received a stipend from The Mayor’s Youth Employment & Education Program, a citywide initiative that offers job readiness training to San Francisco youth.
Ken Zhu, a sophomore at Galileo Academy, said that the program taught him how to grow and tend various plants. “The reason I came here is because I like gardens—my whole family does,” Zhu said. He added that his newly acquired green thumb helped him feel more connected to his family in China who owned a large garden.
Intern Jimmy Xu, a junior at George Washington High School, also drew inspiration from horticultural practices around the world in his creation of a rock garden for his final project. “I wanted to bring more Asian culture into the garden,” Xu explained. He cleared a grassy section of the space as a place for meditation and reflection.
Along with helping the students tap into their own cultural heritage, the garden exposed the students to the Tenderloin—a neighborhood that they had rarely visited before. “It was a life-changing experience because people always have jokes about how you shouldn’t go here, but it’s actually pretty safe,” Xu said.
Not only did the program help the students appreciate the richness of the neighborhood, but it also gave them an opportunity to teach other children in the community from K-5th grade how to plant vegetable gardens. “Teaching is a really good way to learn,” Asberry said.
In addition to learning gardening techniques, the students created video projects and a puppet performance to document their experiences. Asberry taught the students physical theater and helped them storyboard a magic realism story about the intersection of the community and the garden using shadow puppets. “We talked a lot about the culture in this neighborhood and how it’s reflected in their projects,” Asberry said.
Overall, the students remarked that the program enriched their summer by teaching them a new skillset and helping them grow roots in the Tenderloin. “I might even start my own garden at home,” said intern Irene Zhou, a sophomore at Galileo Academy.