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Learning from the Ground up - Urban Tilth keeps West County Healthy by Developing Community Gardens

By Matt Larson

Eating healthy is no easy task. It’s not cheap either. Urban Tilth was founded in 2005 to fight this problem from the ground up. Literally.

Over the past 15 years, Urban Tilth has developed, and continues developing, 7 agricultural garden sites throughout the greater Richmond area. They’ve been devoted to teaching kids and community members alike all about how to grow their own food, and how to eat healthier.

One of these gardens supports the community surrounding Verde Elementary School. The Verde Partnership Garden functions like a sort of outdoor laboratory where students can learn all about cooking, nutrition, even math, science, and leadership skills.

“The garden also brings affordable, healthy food to Verde School students and the North Richmond community,” Urban Tilth proudly boasts.

At another garden, located at Richmond High School, Urban Tilth’s Urban Agriculture Academy gets to work on an 8,000-sq. ft. farm with 14 raised garden beds, complete with a tool shed and greenhouse. This provides enough resources for 30 students to take a year-long accredited course learning all about soil building, water conservation, climate change, even environmental justice.

Urban Tilth also offers a Summer Apprentice Program, which they refer to as a “life-changing summer of intensive urban agriculture training, community engagement, mind-opening filed trips and paid summer employment.” …paid? Apprentices can earn a $1000 stipend for about 100 hours of hands-on learning and community service. Not bad for a hard summer’s work.

Suffice it to say, Urban Tilth had a mission to get out into the community and make a difference when it comes to nutrition and agriculture, and over the past 15 years they’ve done just that.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed—in 2019 the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance awarded Urban Tilth their annual Food Sovereignty Prize in recognition of their work toward helping create a more sustainable, healthy, and just food system for the greater West County community.

“Since Urban Tilth was founded in 2005, our goal has been to transform the food system, especially how the current system impacts low income communities of color in Richmond and San Pablo.”

From the inception, Urban Tilth has made a point to hire and train local residents, with special focus to garnering youth who may be struggling with the criminal justice system, unemployment, access to quality education, etc.

The staff of Urban Tilth always keeps one thing in mind: “We must liberate ourselves. No one can come into our community and do this kind of work for us.”

Urban Tilth has led the way toward revitalizing the Richmond Greenway; they created the Greenway Community Gardens and the “Edible Forest” while helping to create and maintain the Unity Park Project.

Looking forward, Urban Tilth is most excited about the North Richmond Farm. It’s currently being transformed from a neglected property to a vibrant farm, park, and learning center. They’re calling it: The Future Farm.

At the intersection of Fred Jackson Way and Brookside Drive, this “Future Farm” will serve as a permanent farm stand for North Richmond residents to access fresh produce on a daily basis. Urban Tilth is also developing a community kitchen, cooperative cafe, an amphitheater, outdoor classrooms, and much more at this location.

There is a lot of work to be done. In addition to their community gardens and urban farms, Urban Tilth conducts educational programs and manages learning gardens for more than 400 students from the West County school district.

Not to mention their summer program serving 40 students every year for the last decade … and as if that all wasn’t enough, they’re also starting two new after-school programs at Richmond High School; one called The Healing Movement, and the other called The Urban Watershed and Naturalists Club.

Urban Tilth is doing so much more good than we have room to mention. We encourage you to read up more about them at Reach out to get involved if you can as volunteers are more than welcome, with opportunities to help out every Saturday and first Sunday of the month. Email or call (510) 232-0911. Make it the year of doing good and eating right.

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