Youth Gardens Help Feed Families in Aftermath of Butte Fire


September 2015 049 (1)Written by: Kevin Hesser, Co-Founder of Gardens to Grow In and CFSN Mother Lode Co-Regional Lead  

*Originally posted on The Union Democrat

So many people and organizations have stepped up these last two in weeks as the Butte Fire burned more than 70,000 acres in Calaveras and Amador Counties, destroying over 500 houses and evacuating thousands from their homes for days on end.  

“We wanted to help too,” said Zach Guillemin a Railroad Flat Resident and 8th grader at Toyon Middle School.

“I know a lot of families up where we live that lost their houses and gardens in the fire, and we thought maybe we could give them some of the vegetables we are growing in our school gardens since they aren’t able to grow them anymore,” Guillemin added.

With the wheels set in motion, many organizations stepped up to support the effort.  The American Red Cross, Resource Connection Food Bank, UCCE Central Sierra, Calaveras Unified School District, Gardens to Grow In, Community Emergency Response Teams, FoodCorps, Calaveras FFA and many community partners all jumped on board to help make this happen.

For the last two weeks all of the vegetables that have been harvested from the Calaveras High School Farm, Toyon Middle School and many of the elementary school gardens have been given directly to those affected by the fire.  It has been given to the Resource Connection Food Bank, Glory Bound Fellowship, and the American Red Cross for distribution and given directly to families at the school sites.

“It is has been great to see so many of the students so excited to help, and feel that they are able to do something valuable for this community,” said Lucas Hill, a FoodCorps Service Member who serves at the Calaveras High School Farm and Gold Strike High School.  “Being new to this community, I have been so impressed by the youth and organizations that have mobilized to make this a reality.”

In addition to harvesting the vegetables and getting them distributed to families in need, Hill, along with FoodCorps Service Member Emily Metzger also helped lead a cooking session in the Valley Springs Elementary School Garden for Oakendell students who had been evacuated to the gym, and held a garden activity day for children and families evacuated to the campgrounds.

“These are the kinds of things that make us all feel so good inside,” said Marti Crane, long time Red Cross Volunteer and Calaveras County resident.  “When I heard that the schools were needing a way to get these veggies to the families, we saw a great opportunity for collaboration.  The youth in our community are amazing and we are so happy we have been able to help them fulfill their vision of feeding these families with these wonderful vegetables they have put so much time and love into growing.” September 2015 057

In all, over 300 pounds of vegetables grown at the Calaveras High School Farm and school gardens has been given away the last two weeks, with much more to come in the weeks ahead.

“It felt really good to help other people’” said Jack Bohren, a 7th grade student at Toyon Middle school.  “It did more that just help them, it helped me be a better person.”

“Our class started a business to sell our vegetables, and like any business we want to be able to give back to our community,” said Guillemin. “We plan to continue giving away the vegetables we are growing as long as there is a need. It feels good to be able to provide something as foundational as healthy food for those that need it,” he added.

About the Author: 

KevinKevin Hesser is a school teacher and garden coordinator in Calaveras Unified School District.  He teaches art, gardening and cooking at Toyon Middle School and supports garden programs at several elementary schools and the high school farm.

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Gardens to Grow In is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that was founded in 2010 with a mission to promote and support healthy and sustainable lifestyles, youth development, community involvement and self-reliance in Calaveras County schools and communities by teaching children and adults how to grow and prepare healthy food. To learn more, please visit their website

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