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Youth program to close after 18 years for lack of funds

BYA garden crew share a Thanksgiving meal. Left to right: Nahom Fasil, Kithorny Porter, Andranee Nabors, and Davion Barnes. Photo: Kim Allen.

Update, 6:34pm: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported that the city had withdrawn funding this year for the garden program which is closing. The funding was in fact for the BYA’s landscaping program. In addition, Calworks funded BYA’s Steps to Success Program in 2010, not the garden program as reported. We apologize for the confusion.

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The Berkeley Youth Alternatives garden program is scheduled to close at winter’s end after 18 years in operation, and Kim Allen, the program’s manager, will leave at the end of the month after 4.5 years in the position.

Allen said the program has been tight on funds for at least the past year. “Berkeley Youth Alternatives as a whole has been affected by state and local budget cuts, and we have lost foundation support too,” she said. The garden program has been funded largely by private grant monies for a few years and these have run dry, while other grants have not come through, she added.

Berkeleyside reported in July that the program was in trouble but it received a temporary reprieve over the summer.

The BYA garden program provides a minimum-wage, internship program for socio-economically challenged adolescents ages 14 to 18. Most of the youth come to BYA through Alameda County Probation, Berkeley High, and BTech Academy and live in Berkeley, Oakland and Richmond. The garden program also provides volunteer and community service opportunities more widely, and hosts urban agriculture classes for the likes of UC Berkeley.

The program maintains two community garden plots in West Berkeley: the half-acre Bancroft Community Garden, which the BYA shares with two dozen community gardeners on Bancroft Way, and the smaller Community Orchard garden on land the nonprofit owns on Bonar Street. The fruit tree garden includes many heirloom varieties, donated by Trees of Antiquity – among them citrus, apples, and pluots. The Bancroft Garden grows typical farmers’ market fare.

“Our youth and their families struggle with poverty related chronic disease such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. The garden program addresses these and issues by providing opportunities for exercise, healthy cooking  and growing food,” said Becca Prager, Director of Health and Environmental Awareness Training at BYA.

Allen and the youth gardeners, as well as volunteers, will work through October getting the two BYA gardens cover-cropped and to a resting stage.The program will take a rest at least through the winter.

Allen does not discount the possibility of another organization coming forward to save the program and she herself is open to returning. “Our hope is that during that time, those invested in the program will be able to restructure and reorganize, apply for more grants, and plan for the future of the garden program.”

The news of the program’s inability to thrive comes on the same day that Berkeleyside reported on another Berkeley gardening program for youth, the Edible Schoolyard, which has received a financial boost thanks to a large fundraising effort made on its behalf by Alice Waters and her restaurant, Chez Panisse.

Berkeley Youth Alternatives recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. It provides a number of programs for local youth, including academics, career development, sports and fitness and after-school services. The BYA landscaping program, which sees local youth do maintenance work in local parks, is still operating, although it too is under financial pressure.

For more information about the youth garden program watch the video above, read Sarah Henry’s January interview with Kim Allen or visit the Health and Environment page of the Berkeley Youth Alternatives website. If you have ideas of how the program could be saved, or anything to offer towards the effort, please contact Becca Prager at bprager@byaonline.org.

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  • Berkeley resident

    Oh no! I wonder what is going to happen to the garden on Bonar street.  I live very neary by and I sure hope they don’t let it turn into an abandoned empty lot.  Since the program owns the land maybe they can sell it and use the funds to repair their buildling and improve their other programs.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, what a shame…funny how there’s always enough money to start a war, though…

  • Heather W.

    This is really a shame, it’s a good program and offers meaningful work for kids who would otherwise be wandering around possibly getting into trouble. Too bad we have money to fund so many other projects and none to keep our kids happy, engaged and out of trouble. Shame on Berkeley for this!

  • EducationFirst

    you lost me at, “techincal stuffs” .

  • EducationFirst

    “technical stuffs”