A Legacy Lives
By Brian Kluepfel, Special to the Daily Planet (07-01-02)
If Berkeley native David Brower's message was to reclaim the
earth through common action,
then the late conservationist's soul was appeased on Saturday.
At a day-long event honoring Brower's legacy, two community
gardens on Sacramento Street
in southwest Berkeley became gathering places for residents of
all ages to have a healthy
lunch, get their faces painted, learn how bees make honey, and
most importantly, plant a
crop of vegetables that will find its way to local dinner tables
Billed as the 2nd Annual Brower Day by the Brower-formed Earth
Island Institute, the day's
co-sponsor was Strong Roots, a decade-old organization that encourages
youth to get their
hands dirty in the garden.
Brower died in October of 2000 at the age of 88, and with
the exception of his granddaughter
Rosemary, who was helping local beekeeper Khaled Almaghafi sell
some honey Saturday, not
many at the event knew the man. Most, though, had heard of him,
and some, like Sherri
Crighton of Martinez, came quite a distance to pay tribute. Along
with her 20-month-old son,
Nolan, Crighton was watering a new row of tomato plants that
had been planted just that morning.
Representing Brower's generation was Berkeley Vice-Mayor Maudelle
Shirek, 91, long-time
activist and political representative in southwest Berkeley.
However, Shirek refused to speak
as a politician on this day. Donning a simple straw hat, Shirek
told the Daily Planet, "I'm
just a farmer."
She proceeded to talk at some length about her childhood growing
up on an Arkansas farm,
and smiled when recounting the vegetables and fruits that were
raised by her family: peas,
butter beans, peaches, apples, plums, berries and the like.
"It's very helpful (for these children) to be connected
to the earth. That's what's missing
now," she said.
Reinforcing Shirek's statements about the positive impact
of the garden on the locals, Strong
Roots' Shyaam Shabaka said, "before we started here, this
land had two and a half tons of
glass and garbage on it. Today we are planting tomatoes, peppers,
corn, mustard and collard
greens, turnips. The house just across the street a few years
ago was the worst crack house
in the neighborhood, where two people got killed and one person
was shot 10 times."
The land was donated to Strong Roots by local resident Bill
Shabaka says the garden has helped "turn the community
around" and that one of the young
people who once worked with Strong Roots now has a civil engineering
degree from UCLA.
The fruits of the first harvest will go to a willing audience.
"Most of what we grow here will
be donated to the New Light Senior Center and other senior centers,
who can appreciate fresh
organic vegetables," said Shabaka. Shabaka is working on
developing a similar project with
the Earth Island Institute in Richmond.
Neighbors Michele Morgan and Joseph Camacho, who moved to
Street just three years ago, lent their hands at making home-made
ice cream. They, too,
noted the impact of Strong Roots youth team on the once-vacant
"It's fascinating to do this in honor of a 'conservation
celebrity," said Morgan. "There was
nothing here before."
A strong sun shone on plants and planters alike as the day
progressed. Lunch plates were
put down and the bending, digging, planting and watering began
Oakland resident Raul Garcia, who came to Strong Roots via
the East Bay Conservation Corps,
forced a smile and said, "It will be a long hot summer,
but it's worth it. It's fun and I enjoy
If David Brower was looking down on the day's events, no doubt
he was smiling, too.