Life Lessons

Life Lessons: Urban Tilth magic

Richmond, California is a city in the shadow of San Francisco. Poverty and blight have tarnished the esteem of its residents, but one woman is trying to revive the city one garden at a time.

Urban Tilth executive producer Doria Robinson is a nutritional magician. She and her staff of 19 Richmond residents take rundown, abandoned city lots and transform them into lush community gardens.

“It’s a healing process. We take spaces that just need a lot of love and we hire and train local residents who kind of need support as well,” says Robinson.

Urban Tilth site manager Rudy Lozito is one of the many young people who benefited from working in the paid apprentice program at Urban Tilth.

“I started when I was about 18 years old. The next year they hired me on staff and it’s been four years and now I’m in charge of a site, which is pretty great,” said Lozito.

There are seven Urban Tilth gardens. Some are located at schools; others are open to the entire community. Others sell veggies at farm stands.

“They can get a box of food each week, 10 to 20 pounds of produce that comes from us and regionally local farmers,” explained Robinson.

With Richmond’s poverty level around 18 percent, the program helps out many residents who can’t otherwise afford to eat healthy.

“Plants are basically magic,” said Lozito.

“It’s just this physical and metaphorical transformation where we’re uncovering and undoing the disrespect to the land, disrespect to our community. And what you always end up with is life underneath,” said Robinson.

Urban Tilth continues to make an impact on its community. Thanks to the non-profit, Richmond High School now has an 8,000 square-foot farm on its grounds. More than 320 students at that school have participated in Urban Tilth’s paid, youth apprenticeship program. They help to develop farms and gardens throughout the city.

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