Volunteers gather at the Memorial Tabernacle Church for a lawn party to restore the church's garden on Saturday, May 6, 2017. (Yesica Prado/Oakland North)

On a warm Saturday morning, people began to slowly stroll into the Memorial Tabernacle in Oakland’s Bushrod neighborhood. They were gathered not for a morning service, but for a special kind of lawn party. Trail mix, cookies, apples, and fresh-cut pieces of banana were laid out on colorful bowls on a table, but nothing smelled more fresh than the two 4-foot piles of compost and wood mulch laid out on the road in front of the church.

StopWaste, a public agency dedicated to reducing waste in Alameda County, hosted the lawn party to revitalize the Memorial Tabernacle’s community garden, using this hands-on project to educate volunteers on how to convert a water-thirsty lawn into a fruitful garden.

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Urban Releaf founder Kemba Shakur (left) listens to Oakland mayoral candidate Don Perata (right). “If you are out there in the open hills looking down at the flatland of Oakland, it is easy to assume that this is a tree-laden city,” Perata said. “But it’s not.”

Xiao’s current research involves the designing of a new model of tree wells—the area right around the tree root—that are integrated into the city’s drain system. This will allow the tree roots to become the cheapest water purifier. “The new well will save at least 20 percent of water in terms of irrigation as well,” Xiao said.

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