Rooftop Gardens Sustain and Empower
photo credit: Graze The Roof
Located in the heart of San Fransisco, a volunteer-supported rooftop garden is bringing hope and food to one of the largest low-income areas of the city. This garden, affectionately named Graze the Roof, is situated on the roof of Glide Memorial Church and will celebrate its second anniversary September 2010.
The founder of this project, Maya Donelson, is a tenacious Massachusetts native who came to San Francisco with a mission to create rooftop gardens. Following her desire to engage everyone in building community around gardening, she teaches classes on urban gardening techniques throughout the city, increasing awareness in school and after-school. When I met Maya Donelson two years ago, she had recently received a grant from Cliff Mojo Bar and Focus the Nation which allowed her to fulfill Glide Memorial’s desire to have a rooftop garden. Maya coordinated volunteers, gathered donated building materials and gardening supplies proving that the community was willing to San Francisco to support such efforts.
At the cross-streets of Ellis and Taylor, Glide Memorial is a “radically inclusive” church focused on the needs of “the homeless, the elderly, and the underserved”. This area is a tough place to live. Up the street, bright sunlight shines between oppressive buildings. Sidewalks are lined with the homeless and ragged people. The scent of urine commands the air. Those who live in this neighborhood operate outside the normal routine of most San Francisco residents. The mood changes near Glide Memorial. The colorful tiles and mosaics lining the streets along with the open architecture make it clear that someone cares. At top of the church, working in this community garden, Maya is one of those people.
Teaching is her main passion, as she coordinates with the volunteers who receive the bulk of the produce they helped to nurture. In the United States, few such gardens exist, of those that do a majority are in Boston and Chicago, according to Donelson. The drainage and structural supports required for rooftop gardens hinder adoption. Most roofs were not built to hold the weight of regularly watered plants. Structural problems aside, the challenge of getting gardening materials to the top of a building can also be a deterrent.
Maya is now working on two new rooftop garden projects in San Francisco, with close to two years of experience well in hand. Soon to come are a garden atop the Embarcadero YMCA and a garden on the Cecil Williams Community House adjacent to Glide Memorial. This garden will offer food for low-income residents, giving these residents ownership of much more than just a place to live. The community can learn gardening techniques as well as respect for self and the ability to self-sustain. Maya believes that to “take control by taking care of a plant it is one step towards people taking care of themselves.”
Graze the Roof has also added a colony of bees and a class on urban beekeeping. Like the behavior of bees explained in these classes, this project shows a symbiotic relationship with the community, helping people to find themselves in an otherwise harsh environment. With each positive change, the cornerstones of good community keep spreading.
You can get more information by visiting Graze The Roof or by visiting in-person on Thursdays or the first Saturday of the month for community work days.
For other San Francisco efforts for sustainable gardening and education: