Oakland's Urban Youth Harvest Program

4,195 Views

Perhaps you live on the east side of town where orchards once dotted the hillsides and valleys of an early Oakland. The Greek, Italian and Portuguese families who planted these trees often included stay-at-home moms who harvested the fruit and turned out delicious jams, pies and other delights. However, residents today, as you know, live under different circumstances. People are too busy and too tired to pick peaches or peel, slice, core and stew apples. The problem is -- no one told the trees, which means -- the fruit still falls in the backyards. More often than not, it rots. But that is starting to change, because one homeowner has found a solution.

Several Oakland organizations are banding together for the second year to harvest your fruit and share it with seniors in the area. PUEBLO (People United for a Better Life in Oakland), Cycles of Change and the Youth Employment Program hope to have teens cycling to homes in the Laurel, Fruitvale and Dimond Districts (among others) to pick and then to deliver fruit to neighboring senior centers. “We think it’s a great program for community building and utilizing resources,” says Rashidah Grinage, PUEBLO’s director and the source of the idea. “It leaves a better carbon footprint than a farmer’s market – no long truck rides – and it’s one-hour fresh.”

Annie Burdett, coordinator of the Urban Youth Harvest program, agrees. “It is … a very low-cost program. The main funding necessary is simply to pay the salary of the staff supervising the youth and coordinating the harvesting and distribution.”

Last summer, PUEBLO teamed with YEP’s Mayor’s Summer Jobs and Youth Uprising to hire four teens to pick trees in Oakland backyards. After harvesting and delivering more than 350 pounds of apples, plums, peaches, a variety of citrus and even pomegranates, this year, PUEBLO decided to double its help. In addition, it hopes to work longer, starting June 23 for eight weeks. PUEBLO will also change partners and work with Gray Kolevzon, co-director of Cycles of Change.

Kolevzon, whose organization does a lot of bicycle field trips for youth in the East Bay, has been working with MetWest High and International High School in Oakland. He teaches kids the basics of bicycle repair and maintenance. “We have had very successful bicycle education programs at both schools and I know many of the students personally,” he says.

These teens will cycle to the homes, meet a PUEBLO staff member (who will have trucked over fruit pickers, tarps and wire baskets), pick the fruit, pack it in the truck and cycle to a local senior center. There, the teens will hand deliver the very freshly picked locally grown and mostly organic produce.

“We very much hope to expand our program to be sustainable year-round. As it is only in its second year we are still figuring a lot of things out and were not able to apply in time for summer grants,” says Burdett. “The program is remarkable because it is truly local, harvesting food within our neighborhoods and bringing it to people in the community from which it came, decreasing waste, pests and harmful bacteria for residents.”

Burdett adds that the program includes numerous bonuses, such as creating intergenerational connections between community members, employing and educating youth about various complex and challenging issues that communities face, and providing dialog for viable solutions.

“We are trying to build a collaboration. Each of these nonprofits has something unique,” says Grinage, who has lived in East Oakland for 30 years. “This was my own selfish need to rid (my yard of) plums, apples, oranges, pomegranates, and a blackberry vine. I bring plums everywhere I go – chutneys, jams. If you don’t get them fast, they rot.”

And that rotting mess in Grinage’s yard not only annoyed her, but concerned her. She didn’t want to waste what others might not even enjoy. So she thought, why not give some teens a summer job, some homeowners free fruit picking, and some seniors a barrel of fresh produce?

PUEBLO selected several senior day centers in East and West Oakland, including the Golden Age Senior Center in the Eastmont Mall and the Mark Twain Senior Community Center on Lyon Avenue. Most of the neighborhoods where these people live do not have grocery stores. These elderly residents who live on fixed incomes must rely on corner stores, which don’t typically keep fresh fruit and, if they do, it’s not cheap.

PUEBLO was formed in 1989 to a response for immunizing underprivileged Oakland youth during an outbreak of the measles, but it has now expanded its concerns beyond health and economics to food, and, more recently, police conduct. The Urban Youth Harvest program is a return to PUEBLO’s desire to educate and build community. Currently, they rely strictly on community donations to pay staff. Ultimately, Grinage says, PUEBLO would like this program to go year-round and include herbs -- like native mint and lemon balm. She envisions an after school and weekend program that teaches youth a skill and fosters community in a town where the youth and elderly are at a divide.

Grinage says PUEBLO is partnering with the People's Grocery. It's also talking to national organizations like Whole Foods and the Rotary International about collaborating.

“This program is still in the pilot stage and what we really need is community support and involvement,” urges Burdett. “We need people with fruit trees to hear about us and contact us for gleaning. We want to find the people in most need of our deliveries to be on our recipient lists, and we would love for this program to become a model to be used in other cities and towns around the country.”

Courtesy of www.theoakbook.com

Comments (2)

Enjoy this post? Why not share with friends or add a comment of your own?

Ruth Stroup

Thanks for the awesome article! Oakland is full of good news like this, it just never makes the papers.

Saiful Rimkeit

Rashidah Grinage is a Subud member. That makes the difference. If you are interested in living a spiritual life that matters, look up Subud in your telephone book, or you can email the National Office here: subudusa@subudusa.org to find out where the nearest local Subud organization is located in your neighborhood.

Share your thoughts…