Tenderloin People’s Garden Brings Fresh Produce to the Neighborhood

The Tenderloin neighborhood, which is home to more than 30,000 people living within 40 city blocks, has no grocery store and very limited sources for residents to buy affordable fresh produce. “This is a big public health challenge for this community,” said Steve Woo, TNDC Community Organizer. One of the Community Organizing Department’s top priorities has been to generate new ways to bring healthy affordable food to this neighborhood.

Beginning last spring, the Department of Real Estate has allowed TNDC to use a plot of land at McAllister and Larkin Streets to create a Tenderloin People’s Garden. This community garden has enabled Tenderloin residents to grow their own food and give it away for free for the benefit of their community.

Over 175 pounds of food has been harvested since May. “We’re really proud of such a big yield for a 25’x25′ garden plot,” said Steve. Produce includes broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, cabbage, red and green tomatoes, and even plants volunteers have contributed that reflect their own tastes and cultures, including bok choy, mint leaves, and Chinese melon.

Everything grown in the garden becomes communal property. The first Wednesday of every month, a group harvest takes place and neighbors know to come to the garden to share in the bounty. Fliers are distributed to residents in TNDC buildings to let them know about the free fresh produce.

A core group of TNDC Tenant Leaders work closely with Siu Han Cheung, TNDC’s Community Outreach Coordinator and lead coordinator of the garden, to organize garden volunteer opportunities. TNDC Tenant Leaders are a group of dedicated TNDC resident volunteers who receive trainings on public speaking, community organizing, safety and health issues to help empower them to make a difference in their community. They meet every other week to discuss leadership opportunities in the community and support the work of TNDC’s Community Organizers, including efforts like the Tenderloin People’s Garden.

The garden must be supervised and staffed at all times it is open. “We rely heavily on volunteers to keep it open so the community can use it,” said Siu. The majority of volunteers are residents from TNDC’s buildings that are in the neighborhood, but the garden also sees community volunteers including federal and state employees from the nearby Civic Center.

Nian Ying Fan, a resident of TNDC’s Alexander Residence senior building for the last six years, has become actively involved in volunteering at the garden and says it has helped her find self-confidence as she adapts to life in retirement.

“I don’t understand English,” she explained to Siu in Cantonese. “I can’t read Chinese either, so I never joined in activities. I felt inferior and always stayed in my room. I felt so unhappy.”

Nian Ying Fan came to the Tenderloin from China, where she was a farm worker. When Siu was looking for volunteers for the Tenderloin People’s Garden, she knew Nian Ying Fan would be perfect for the job. “They wanted to find an experienced volunteer for the farm, because TNDC has a farm in Tenderloin, and they need more volunteers working together. Now I feel that I contribute to the community. I am enjoying retired life now.”

In an effort to involve more children in the garden, a Garden Art Day was held in June. 90 children from three local neighborhood youth programs came to the garden to decorate the surrounding fences with colorful painted murals and to create a Tenderloin People’s Garden sign.

11-year-old Vivian Cheung, Siu’s daughter, and 12-year-old Annie Xiao, whose dad volunteers at the garden, both attended the event. Not only did they paint and decorate, they also learned about gardening and some healthy wisdom from “Mama Siu.”

“We learned that, just like us, vegetables are not grown up in one day,” they said. “We need to work hard and care about the garden and need to wait, and we and the plants will grow up together. We learned to be patient and work hard and we will have a good harvest.”

Vivian and Annie said they painted a banner for the Tenderloin People’s Garden to pay back TNDC and Mama Siu. “We really appreciate it. Thank you for educating us and giving us the opportunity have this great experience.”

“Not only was this a fun activity for kids and a way to make the garden beautiful, but it was also a creative method to deal with security issues,” said Steve. The garden has experienced vandalism and attempted break-ins this summer, and having children’s decorations around the perimeter was a creative initiative to discourage this activity. “So far it has worked, we have had no break-ins since.”

If you are interested in seeing the Tenderloin People’s Garden, visit the corner of Larkin and McAllister next to Soluna Café, an active community supporter of the garden whose owners donated the garden’s compost bin. To help volunteer, contact TNDC at (415) 358-3967.


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