Archive for June, 2007

School’s Out

Early in the week following the one that most K-12 schools in the area finished up for the summer, I walked over to my community garden plot before work to water my vegetables. A boy, maybe 8 or 9 years old, wandered in to look around as I was finishing up, and I had to tell him that I was locking the gate and unfortunately wasn’t able to stay around that morning. I asked him if he was with anyone, and he said he wasn’t; it just seemed he was wandering around looking for something to do. I directed him across the street to look at the ducks and the apples growing along the fence of the EcoHouse, and let him know what hours the garden was open to the public. As I was walking back from the garden, I wondered how most kids in Berkeley spent their summers. Since then, I have been noting that that stereotypical media depiction of children spending all their time indoors in front of the TV and computer doesn’t appear to be altogether true (here in Berkeley, at least). Parks seem to be filled with day camps and other groups of children running around and getting lots of fresh air. One day at lunchtime, I encountered a lemonade stand. Best of all, I have seen several groups of children walking places.

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Quonsets and Berkeley’s Role in Wars

I’ve always been fascinated by Quonset huts, but hadn’t known much about their history until finding a book about them a couple of years ago, Quonset Hut: Metal Living for a Modern Age. These prefab structures were used as temporary shelters during World War II, and then were used for other industrial, commercial, and residential purposes after the war. They can still be found here and there, and I was pleased to run across one in West Berkeley, at the end of Folger street. I looked up the building in Discovering West Berkeley, which noted that it was built in 1946, U.S. Navy. It looks like other nearby buildings were the site of manufacturing that supported the Richmond shipyards during WW II. There’s quite a bit of history to be found about Richmond and the war, including exhibits at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II National Historical Park (an easy car-free outing from Berkeley — take a bike over the Berkeley I-80 bicycle bridge and ride north on the Bay Trail path to the park, which just one small hill at the racetrack). But what about Berkeley? Because of Berkeley’s association with the peace movement, the city’s role in wars isn’t something everyone thinks about. However, there is plenty of military history here. Berkeley, A City in History includes a good summary of World War II and beyond, and the December 2006 issue of the Berkeley Historical Society newsletter has an article about and photos of Camp Ashby, a U.S. Army training camp for black soldiers during World War II.

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Odds & Ends

The San Francisco Chronicle has a nice article today about neighbors who have taken down fences to combine their backyards. Not mentioned in the article is a block of houses in Berkeley known as “The Meadows” where the fences have been down for for a number of years. I’ve been to another shared backyard in Oakland, and imagine there are others out there in the area.

Also in the news is the Public Commons for Everyone Initiative, which was passed last night by the Berkeley City Council. Normally I don’t report on politics here, but this is worth pointing out because it is of interest to walkers. The initiative is meant to make shopping districts more inviting by banning activities such as smoking in front of businesses, yelling, urinating in public, etc. The initiative has been criticized by homelessness advocacy groups. As the initiative begins to be enforced, I will report on what changes (if any) I notice when walking in commercial districts.

In response to my post about Front Porches, Georgia at Local Ecologist noted that she is a member of the Professional Porch Sitters Union, an informal group that encourages sitting on the front porch. Somehow I missed NPR’s series on porches from last summer, which talks about the porch sitters union and other porch-related topics.

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Edible Schoolyard

I usually try to vary the crosstown streets I use to get to different areas of town where I walk, but one I often take in North Berkeley is Rose Street. It’s a quieter and shadier street than Cedar, but mainly I like to have the opportunity to stop in at the Edible Schoolyard, the well-known school garden and cooking program started by Alice Waters and located at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. I was pleased to learn upon moving to Berkeley that the garden is open to the public on the weekend and during non-school hours. On an acre of land next to the school buildings are beds of vegetables and herbs, fruit trees and vines, a greenhouse, an outdoor oven, chickens, a building that houses the kitchen area, and areas to sit and enjoy the gardens. I like to wander through the gardens to see how they look at different times of the year. We are lucky here, with our mild climate, to be able to grow food year-round. Even in the winter, there are several crops growing in the garden. Most of the plants have labels (made by the students), and it’s a great educational experience for adults as well as children.

Much has been written already about the Edible Schoolyard, so rather than recount its history, here are a few sources for further reading: PBS segment, Washington Post article, Center for Ecoliteracy. The new biography of Alice Waters, Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, also has background on the Edible Schoolyard.

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