Garden for the Environment

Sowing the Seeds for an Urban Green Revolution

By: Veronica Voss-Macomber

Veronica Voss-Macomber is the 2013 Pitschel Prizer winner for her essay entitled “Children Need Gardens.”…

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Looking through the entrance of the Garden for the Environment towards one of the outdoor classrooms. Photo: Blair Randall, GFE executive director

Looking through the entrance of the Garden for the Environment towards one of the outdoor classrooms. Photo: Blair Randall, GFE executive director

Along a busy avenue in San Francisco, a half acre of the urban landscape has been transformed into a thriving garden. A flourishing, vibrant hedgerow of water-wise plants including Ceanothus thrysiflorus, Leucadendron salignum, and Cistus ×skanbergii, announces the Garden for the Environment (GFE), a non-profit educational and water-wise demonstration garden.

Composting workshops at the Garden for the Environment are hands-on. Photo: Blair Randall, GFE executive director

Composting workshops at the Garden for the Environment are hands-on. Photo: Blair Randall, GFE executive director

Features at GFE include a small-scale urban food production plot, water-wise landscaping, a rainwater harvesting system, a three-part compost station, innumerable fruit trees, a greenhouse, and two outdoor classrooms. All of which spectacularly support the GFE mission to teach San Franciscans sustainable gardening skills so that in turn, they can positively effect change in the urban environment. Diverse educational programming appeals to novice and seasoned gardeners alike.

With funding provided by San Francisco Public Utilities, the GFE School Education Program invites approximately 900 fourth- to sixth-graders from the San Francisco United School District to take part in environmental literacy workshops and hands-on gardening activities over the course of a school year. This experience strengthens, and in some cases introduces, students to the natural world, and fosters the growth of future environmental stewards.

Weekend workshop participants gather at an outdoor classroom at Garden for the Environment to bolster their gardening skill set. Photo: Blair Randall, GFE executive director

Weekend workshop participants gather at an outdoor classroom at Garden for the Environment to bolster their gardening skill set. Photo: Blair Randall, GFE executive director

Weekend gardening classes for the general public emphasize water-wise landscaping, organic edible gardening, and integrated pest management. Free monthly classes taught by graduates of the GFE Gardening and Composting Educator Training Program—or Get Up! for short—provide information and the skills needed to master urban composting.

Get Up! is an intensive, mostly hands-on, three-month-long training program for participants who wish “to become ambassadors of a local food systems movement and to reduce waste through composting and ecological gardening.” The program has produced an impressive list of leaders in the transformation and greening of San Francisco’s communities and its graduates can be found at the helm of such esteemed local organizations as Alemany Farm, an educational and working volunteer-run organic farm, and Education Outside, which works to provide garden-based education to every schoolchild in San Francisco.

Garden for the Environment is located on 7th Avenue at Lawton in San Francisco and is always open and free to the public. Tours of the garden, as well as volunteering and internship opportunities that provide a chance to garden alongside the dedicated and very knowledgeable GFE staff, nurture a connection to nature and gardening. Commemorating its 25th anniversary this fall, the venerable Garden for the Environment has much to celebrate!