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Oakland kids learn gardening basics at summer camp

on August 10, 2011

A camper waters some plants.

Ten kids are playing computer games as Peter Collier, the City of Oakland’s community gardening program coordinator, walks into a classroom at the Mosswood Recreation Center on Wednesday morning. The kids gradually pull away from the screens and line up at the door to head outside to the Mosswood community garden, as Collier greets them and gives them an update on tomatoes, beets and sweet potatoes the kids planted earlier in the summer.

“Some of the stuff you guys planted the last few weeks is starting to come to life,” Collier tells them as they and head outside.

The kids are campers in the city’s parks and recreation department’s summer camp, which has weekly sessions and hosts activities like swimming, acting and golf throughout the day. This is the first summer gardening has been added to the program. There are 11 sites at recreation centers around the city where kids between the ages of 5 and 12 are learning the basics of how nutrition and how to care for a garden, like how to plant, water and compost.

“The main objective I think is just to show them that it’s fun to garden,” Collier said. “They get to learn the value of growing their own food and then bring the knowledge home to their families.”

On a warm and sunny Wednesday morning at Mosswood, every kid had a task: some shoveled compost, watered plants or planted eggplant and sunflowers, while others raked and swept or played with worms. “They all like different aspects [of gardening],” said LaTarsha McCoy, the Mosswood recreation leader, as she supervised the kids.

“She doesn’t like getting her hands dirty,” McCoy continued, motioning to a girl clearing a path with two other campers. “But she has been really content to just rake. She’s having fun.”

Kids handle various garden tasks, like raking a pathway.

“My favorite thing is planting, having friends and eating,” said one of the campers, 8-year-old Makeya.

While summer camp ends at the end of August, the youth gardening program will continue in the fall. The program started in the spring at afterschool activities, and   was then extended into the summer for two hours, once a week. Collier said a goal is to one day expand the program to all 14 of the city’s recreation centers.

Collier said the city is looking for volunteer garden educators who can help run some of the programs at recreation centers. “Every time somebody steps up and says they can run the program at a certain site and they’re qualified,” Collier said, “that frees me up to do it somewhere else and keep it growing.”

As the 11 o’clock hour rolled around, the kids lined up to head back inside, and Collier handed out packets of vegetable seeds for them to take home. “A lot of the kids will say, ‘I started those seeds with my family,’” Collier said. “That’s great.”

Click here for more information on the City of Oakland’s community garden program.



  1. Jorge Laredo on August 13, 2011 at 7:12 am

    Go get em PC!

  2. Marianne on August 20, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Great job Peter! Keep up the good work, the world needs more of you.

  3. Peter on August 23, 2011 at 9:48 am

    Thanks for this great article! And I appreciate anyone contacting me for more information about our youth gardening programs happening NOW all across Oakland! Please get involved if this type of education speaks to you and you believe in its power to make a real difference in the lives of our young people. I do!

    Peter Collier
    Community Gardening Program Coordinator

    • LaTarsha on August 26, 2011 at 6:18 pm

      This article is awesome! We have so much each time you come, “Peter Pepper”! Look forward to continuing with the program!

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