Church Roof Garden

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The taste and smell of fresh-picked produce are usually reserved for those with gardens—not those living in the urban core. But as Kim Riemland reports, some inner-city children are developing green thumbs and “healthy” appetites, thanks to some help from above.

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(Locator: San Francisco, California)

San Francisco’s Tenderloin District is a concrete jungle of sidewalks and skyscrapers…but it’s a whole different story seven stories up.

This is the rooftop of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church—an organic, edible garden planted about a year ago.

Maya Donelson: “We only want to pick the bright yellow ones that look like this…”

It’s grown into a living classroom, and popular snack bar…

Child: “Tomatoes.”

…for neighborhood children.

Maya Donelson, Graze the Roof Program: “A lot of people here are low-income and this provides them a way they can actually learn how to grow their own food.”

Maya Donelson worked with the church to get a grant for this “Graze the Roof” program…

Maya Donelson: “Grab it real tight.”

…to plant the seeds for a healthier community.

Child: “You got a big one.”

Janice Mirikitani, Glide Memorial United Methodist: “You saw the children being able to enjoy fresh vegetables. Well, it certainly beats Ding Dongs.”

Maya Donelson: “Can you harvest this?”

Most of these kids don’t have much access to fresh, nutritious produce. But here they help plant, grow and harvest a rainbow of food.

Maya Donelson: “This is basil. It smells really delicious.”

Even better, they learn to prepare the fruits—and vegetables—of their labor.

Chef Becca Alonzi: “I want you all to have a smell.”

Chef Becca Alonzi converts a church classroom into a makeshift kitchen to teach these little ones that vegetables aren’t so bad.

On today’s menu: cabbage pesto.

Chef Becca Alonzi: “Push the button…and we’re in action.”

Chef Becca Alonzi: “If I approached a first grader and said, ‘Try this,’ they’d probably say ‘You’re crazy.’”

But when they’ve spent the season growing it, and a morning making it into a tasty treat, they can’t seem to get enough.

Child: “It tastes good.”

Child: “It tastes like it's sweet and it’s like um, fruit.”

The Rev. Cecil Williams, Glide Memorial United Methodist Church: “It has to be participation on their part, that they have done something that counts.”

Maya Donelson: “It’s a cucumber.”

It’s hoped that respect for the environment and an appetite for fresh and healthy living will take root on this rooftop…and grow.


The Graze the Roof project grew out of Glide’s partnership with the Oakland non-profit Bay Localize.

The project offers gardening classes so neighbors can learn to grow their own food. Volunteers who help work in Glide’s garden are also rewarded with fresh produce they can take home. For more information, contact Glide Memorial at 415-674-6000.

Also, see: Church’s rooftop garden inspires city youth

Posted: September 2, 2009