Raheem Payton used to think nothing of littering streets until he
discovered his community garden. Now he is angry that he and his friends
ever did such a thing. “I’m an advocate for putting your trash in the
right place now,” he says, “and I try to keep my friends on the straight
path, too.” Payton discovered his calling earlier than other youths
through a program called Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ) in the
Bayview district of San Francisco. Founded in 1998 by a coalition of
youth, educators, and community leaders, LEJ addresses the ecological
and health concerns of Bayview-Hunters Point and surrounding communities
of southeast San Francisco.
The project that Payton participates in operates a native plants nursery
at a former dumpsite near Candlestick Park. The garden is the primary
supplier of plant stock to two major restoration projects in San
Francisco—Candlestick Point State Recreation Area and Heron’s Head Park.
Payton works three hours a day in the garden transplanting starter
plants into larger pots to be taken to one of the restorations sites.
Already, the 18-year-old is hooked on gardening.
“I want to major in landscape architecture [and] design gardens to
encourage cities to be healthier and better looking,” he says. Community organizer for Green Action, Marie Harrison says, “These
children are gaining knowledge that is quite valuable. If there ever was
a disaster these children would know exactly how to sustain