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Collective Roots: Sustainable Gardens

Today, is proud to present the first in a new ongoing series of profiles of organizations or companies involved in the sustainable movement. We are promoting these organizations to help them gain exposure and attract volunteers and funding.  But really, we just wanted to talk about some of the good people are doing.

These organizations or companies are run by people, normal people that decided to make a difference. We hope their example inspires you to get involved or even start your own group in the same vein. If you are a member of such an organization or company or want to give credit to such an organization, please e-mail me at [email protected] with the details.

The format of these articles is simple. I ask six questions and reproduce their responses. I let the organizations tell their stories since they do it so much better than I could. So without further ado, let me present...

Collective Roots


Collective Roots is a non-profit community garden organization working in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, California. The group is dedicated to working with school children to create sustainable organic gardens. The group has been featured on numerous outlets including San Jose Mercury, Palo Alto Daily News & Oprah Winfrey's website. The source of this interview is Wolfram Andrews, the executive director of Collective Roots.

Collective Roots- Keen For Green

1. Why, how and when did your organization come about?

Collective Roots was founded by Holly Taylor, Amanda Feld, and Adam Mitchell in 2000 at Belle Haven School in Menlo Park. There the young program focused on three initiatives: involving students and community members in the planting of multiple garden spaces, establishing a weekly after-school Garden Club that attracted students across multiple grade levels, and initiating a pilot program with ten teachers to begin integrating garden-centered learning into their curricula.

By June 2002, our Garden Club averaged more than 25 students per week and two neglected courtyards were transformed into flourishing gardens through the hard work of our students, teachers, parents, and the community-at-large. The gardens became a source of pride in the neighborhood and provided an avenue for parents to become actively engaged in their children's school.

A leadership change at Belle Haven, coupled with cuts in district funding, prompted CRGP to seek a new community partner that would provide both the physical space and the support to grow and replicate the successful elements of our program, enabling us to serve more students. In January 2003, Collective Roots relocated to EPACS, a year-round public K-8 charter school committed to providing innovative learning opportunities and improving academic achievement. We realized that EPACS provided a fertile environment for Collective Roots' growth - in terms of both its existing garden spaces as well as strong faculty support.

At EPACS, Collective Roots has developed a program with strong support from students, faculty, and community members. Our hands-on lessons in the garden teach students in grades K-8 about sustainable agriculture and nature, nutrition, science, math, and language arts. Collective Roots became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in June 2003.

The school garden at EPACS has grown to become a flagship garden approaching nearly an acre in size. The garden offers many exciting features including an outdoor kitchen, a giant green dome, a fruit orchard, solar power, a pond, vermiculture, composting, and more.

Collective Roots expanded in 2007 to include providing garden based learning at Willow Oaks Elementary School in Belle Haven, a Ravenswood City School District school located in a neighborhood of Menlo Park. In 2008 and early 2009, Collective Roots expanded after school programming to include the East Palo Alto-based 49ers Academy middle school and two local non-profits: Girls to Women and College Track. These after school programs include garden-based education and nutrition/cooking classes.

In 2007, Collective Roots replaced its website with a content management system that provides rich content for education and action, collaboration with community partners, and many interactive features including "ROOTPEDIA," forums, online curriculum, and much more.

Collective Roots also expanded its work in 2007 to include food systems change and environmental work in the community of East Palo Alto. Collective Roots is supporting a community wide effort to organize a community based farmers' market in East Palo Alto, and is also supporting the East Palo Alto Tree Initiative.

With the support of an active Board of Directors and many community partners, Collective Roots is working to strengthen our reach into schools and communities to further our mission and provide excellent environmental science and nutrition education opportunities to East Palo Alto students. This year we are exploring opportunities to expand to other schools in San Mateo and Santa Clara County.

Collective Roots- Keen For Green

2. What is the goal of your organization?

The mission of Collective Roots is to educate and engage youth and communities in food system change through sustainable programs that impact health, education, and the environment.

Collective Roots achieves its mission through the innovative integration and implementation of three program areas: garden-based education, food systems change, and environmental action.

We rely on extensive collaboration and partnership to enable all aspects of our work, and we receive the support of hundreds of volunteers in order to achieve our goals and objectives.

3. What projects have you recently done?

The East Palo Alto Community Farmers’ Market. There is so much it is hard to detail it all here. You can pick and choose from our newsletters that go out every month: They are loaded with details about our work.

Collective Roots- Keen For Green

4. What future projects are planned and are you looking for volunteers?

All of our current volunteer projects are listed at

We hold a community garden work day every month at East Palo Alto Charter School, generally on the fourth Saturday of the every month from 8 am to Noon. The announcement are always on our website or you can contact Eron Sandler.

5. How does your organization's activity help the environment?

We reduce the carbon footprint in our community by recycling large quantities of green waste (over 100 tons of green waste have been pumped into our garden at East Palo Alto Charter School already!) All of our gardens are organic and we provide a local source of fresh fruits and vegetables so that our residents do not have to travel 5 miles outside the city to the nearest supermarket. We engage hundreds of young people and community members in environmental education and activities, and actively promote local environmental initiatives, such as the East Palo Alto Tree Initiative.

6. What is the major problem(s) your group has faced in making your goal a reality?

There are no established funding streams for our work. We must seek funding and support from wide range of sources: private donors, foundations, corporations, educational institutions, health institutions, in-kind donations, etc. We are constantly on the funding treadmill searching for the support we need.

Collective Roots- Keen For Green


Thank you!

Thank you for this in-depth piece. We deeply value hyper-local media and the significant space you have given this article that features our work. So much incredible support has come from Menlo Park and surrounding communities in Silicon Valley for the work of Collective Roots.
-Sincerely, Wolfram Alderson, Executive Director, Collective Roots

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