children and adults gardening in a community garden

Planting Seeds of Resilience

Miriam Aczel

Urban beautification and community gardening are making the City of Oakland cleaner, greener, and more beautiful. While planting trees, flowers, and other greenery help provide shade, improve air quality, and increase access to local food, it can also bring people together to share knowledge and build meaningful relationships.  

The magic of urban trees

Trees can do a lot for humans and the environment: not only do they enhance civic beauty, but they provide vital habitats for local wildlife, including wild turkeys, deer, and squirrels. Many of these animals use urban trees for food and shelter and as places for resting and raising young. 

Trees can also improve air quality by providing oxygen, removing carbon dioxide, and reducing urban air pollution—in fact, street trees can reduce indoor air pollution by over 50 percent! In Oakland, shade trees help cool the City by up to 10°F and buildings surrounded by greenery can save nearly 50 percent in energy used for heating and cooling.

The City of Oakland offers diverse resources on maintaining and preserving local trees: apply for a permit to plant a street tree or get free seeds from one of Oakland’s many seed lending libraries. The Oaktown Trees initiative, organized by the local non-profit Common Vision, also provides free fruit trees to students as a way for them to learn about their community and the environmental health benefits of trees. 

Growing together: Oakland’s community gardens

Oakland also has various community gardens where residents can grow organic flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs. There are many ways to get involved: you can apply for a community garden plot or sign up as a volunteer gardener. The City also provides opportunities for young gardeners through local nonprofits, recreation centers, and schools such as the Garden Education program. Community hubs like the Fruitvale Community Garden also allow neighbors to come together to grow food and enjoy the outdoors together. 

Another initiative is MamaWanda’s Garden School, which aims to build resilient communities through sustainable agriculture. The School is led by Wanda Stewart, an urban farmer and educator, who teaches students throughout Alameda County how to grow orchards on their campuses. In addition to educational outreach, Wanda opens her home, Obsidian Farm—which is filled with fruit trees, vegetables, chickens, and herbs—as a collective gardening space and model for building urban resilience. She also has a YouTube channel with videos on composting, tree care, and more!

From enhancing the everyday health and well-being of neighborhoods to empowering them to bounce back after a disaster, community gardens and urban beautification projects are a great way to build stronger, more equitable communities. 

Cover image: Planting fruit trees at Lynwood Elementary School. Credit: Common Vision 

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