Students Dig in to Create Green Spaces in South Berkeley


These Berkeley High students, part of Moving South Berkeley Forward, volunteered earlier this month at the annual Spring Garden Work Day at the Center for Food, Faith & Justice (CFFJ) to help with weeding, preparing the garden bed with compost/worm castings, and planting of herbs, veggies, and native plants. The food they produce goes to the local South Berkeley community. Plans for the upcoming harvest include a community farm stand in front of the CFFJ. (Photos courtesy of Moving South Berkeley Forward)


An exciting youth-driven project aims to convert the former Santa Fe Right of Way (SFROW) railroad site into a green space and community garden. Moving South Berkeley Forward is a collaboration that involves Berkeley High School, UC Berkeley, the City of Berkeley, and the Berkeley Community Gardening Collaborative. According to coordinator Kayhill Verceles, an important project goal is to provide environmental mentorship for students of color at Berkeley High, with Cal students serving as the mentors. Currently, four Berkeley High students and one Cal mentor are participating, with plans to grow to 12 students and six mentors. The Ecology Center serves as the project’s fiscal agent.

The railroad, known as the “Oakland Local,” was created by Santa Fe Railroad in 1904 to connect Oakland to Point Richmond by running diagonally through South Berkeley. The City of Berkeley acquired the full 3.1 miles of the SFROW in 1979 for the purpose of “park land, housing, and to sell to neighboring residents.”

Unfortunately, the railway company contaminated the land with arsenic to kill gophers, making it unsafe for growing food. Project leaders for Moving South Berkeley Forward have applied for Prop 68 grant funds to excavate and replace the soil. The group will learn in about two months if they’ve been awarded the grant.

Meanwhile, in advance of creating the garden, students have done some soil sampling to test for arsenic. They’ve also been leading community events and going door-to-door to educate and involve community members. When Covid restrictions forced the students onto Zoom, they used the opportunity to hear speakers on environmental education and professional development. They’re hoping to get back out into the community as restrictions ease. Assuming the grant funds come through, work on the garden will begin in 2022. Info: here