Richmond High Students Bring Life to Vacant Lot

News Feature, Tania Pulido

What do you like to do on a Saturday? On June 15th about 40 Richmond High school students, community members, and Bay Area residents chose to gather, ready to work, on an unproductive lot of land on the corner of Market St. and 23rd St in San Pablo. The group broke ground on the lot by picking, pulling, and collecting weeds around the exterior with goals to plant it out.

A group of 10 to 20 students from Richmond High met for three weeks manifesting a collective vision of turning the lot into a community garden. One of the young visionaries, Precious Roberts, was inspired by her family’s recent struggles.

Precious’ little brother became very ill after he developed asthma and diabetes.
“The younger generations aren’t expected to live as long as their parents. That’s a problem,” said Precious.

After her family decided to make a lifestyle shift and start eating organic, Precious witnessed how her brother began to recover more quickly than expected. But her family had to drive far distances to buy reasonably priced organic food. Precious and other students devised a solution – to change a vacant city lot into a community garden – that was inspired by the film “Edible City” and their own school garden at Richmond High.

The students saw the empty lot not as a “waste” or a “problem” but as an opportunity.
“I have always seen the lot vacant and had ideas for it, like creating it into a soccer field or a building. But my friends told me about building a garden,” said Htejany Fernandez, a Richmond High student who lives across the street from the lot.

Fernandez claims she doesn’t eat the school lunch because “it’s horrible, it’s frozen and microwavable food.” The first time Fernandez ate a strawberry from the Richmond High garden, she said, “It was like nothing I’ve ever had before. It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to eat chemical free food.” Fernandez plans to continue being involved with the garden’s development.

Each of the youth who sparked the idea and inspired others to get involved had different reasons for joining the project.
“At first it was for my friends but now that I see all the good I want to come again,” said Josephine Huynh, who lives two blocks away.

Ingrid Serrano, a recent RHS graduate, said she likes gardening because “it helps me with stress and it’s fun.” Serrano’s father also has diabetes. She hopes the garden will “bring awareness of healthy food and involve the community.”

Evelina, a senior at RHS who attended every planning meeting, envisions the lot with “fruit everywhere and plants to harvest and enjoy.” She said the group is focusing on outreach and speaking to the City of San Pablo, which owns the lot.

The students and volunteers focused on clearing the weeds on the exterior parts of the space to plant flowers. For hours people worked hard to break rocky and gravel soil.

Another RHS alumnus, Joanna Pulido, now a student at San Francisco State, sees the need for more green spaces where students and community members can hang out.

The imagination of the youth was soaring; they spoke of hosting talent shows, movie nights, and community food gatherings at the future garden.

It was a special Saturday – one that marked the beginnings of a new space where the community will be able to come together. Precious imagines the lot as a busy and productive space with raised beds and frequent visitors. “It’s not limited to anyone,” she said. “The older the wiser — we need to turn to the elderly who know about agriculture.”

Precious, Josephine, Evelina, Ingrid, Veronica, and the other students involved make me proud to be a Richmond High alumnus. They, and others, will continue to work the soil at the lot, with plans to host more volunteer days. What do you like to do on a Saturday?

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