Tennyson High School students and elderly Masonic Home residents are at nearly opposite ends of life's stages but both groups share an interest in turning over dirt: Both groups have run community gardens for seven years, sharing their harvests with southern Alameda County residents.
Tennyson students were hard at work on their two-acre plot last week, when Maria Teresa Ceballos cheered on fellow students as they chopped down oats at the Farm, the South Hayward school's garden. They were sprucing it up for an April 26 open house.
"I was not into cooking until I got on the Farm," Ceballos said, pausing from loading a wheelbarrow with some of the chopped-down plants. "Now I'll cook broccoli, or whatever."
Likewise, Masonic Home employee John Marshall has converted a three-quarter-acre parcel into farmland that helps feed the Union City facility's senior citizens.
In a few weeks, Marshall plans to do it again. He and a team of volunteers and Masonic Home residents there will plant rows of tomatoes, carrots, beets, kale and other crops on another parcel next to the first garden. They plan to donate their yield to Tri-City Volunteers, a Fremont food pantry struggling to serve a growing number of families while undergoing cuts in grants and donations.
"We donate a lot to Tri-City's food bank, and I noticed they never seem to have enough fruit and green vegetables," Marshall said. "That got me thinking that we could help."
Both gardens, about four miles from each other, were seeded in 2007. That's when Tennyson students started growing food for themselves, holding cooking demonstrations and donating crops to a nearby church food pantry. Now, they are opening up the Farm to Hayward families, encouraging them to sign up for free garden plots as part of a push to provide healthy food for low-income residents.
"The students converted a portion of the Farm to raised garden beds so 30 families can grow healthy vegetables," said Melissa Morris, who helps oversee the garden program.
The Farm is a joint project of the county Office of Education and the school district, started to promote healthy eating at the low-income South Hayward school.
The campus' once-barren field now is green with herbs, vegetables and more than 40 fruit trees. It also has a greenhouse, an outdoor kitchen and storage sheds.
At the open house, families can sign up to garden in a 4-by-8-foot individual raised bed, and will be expected to work in the Farm's shared beds four hours a month, Morris said. Residents also can request weekly boxes of produce that students plan to sell this summer. The teenagers are still figuring out what to charge, Morris said.
"Last summer, the students ran the entire thing," she said. "They tracked how much they harvested, and they included a recipe with each box."
Summer planting has begun, and garden boxes are being filled with strawberry, cucumbers and chard seedlings.
"Kids should start gardening early," said student Roland Ocansy. "If you teach the kids when they're young, they're going to like it and grow their own food later."
Ocansy was not a newbie when he joined the Farm crew; he had gardened with his grandparents.
Marshall has started a similar concept at the Masonic Home in Union City, a continuing care center for about 270 senior citizens above Mission Boulevard. He has hired a full-time gardener to manage the two parcels on the 267-acre property, but Marshall said he expects some Masonic Home residents will want to grab a rake and shovel to help.
"We have residents who like to garden, even in retirement," he said.
Gardening is appealing to many senior citizens because it's a way to stay active and they can literally see the fruits of their labor, said Tri-City Volunteers leader Melissa Ponchard.
Ponchard praised Marshall and the Masonic Home for filling one of the food bank's greatest needs.
"They're being incredibly generous," she said. "There's nothing in it for them other than knowing they're looking after seniors, migrants and those who've fallen on hard times and misfortune."
Music, food, games, gardening tips and Farm tours. Residents can sign up for garden plots or produce boxes.
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. April 26
Where: Tennyson High School Farm, 27035 Whitman St., Hayward