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The GP Earth Stewards Program

© 2013 The Garden Project San Francisco
© 2013 The Garden Project San Francisco

The GP Earth Stewards Program


As news headlines frequently announce, lower income young people across the country have been particularly hard hit by the recession.  Studies predict the long-term impact of high rates of joblessness among young people will be a less-experienced work force, increased government spending due to lower lifetime earnings, reduced tax revenues, and higher prison costs. In 2004, The Garden Project began The Earth Stewards job-training program for lower income young adults. Before other municipalities realized the need to address this growing problem, the Stewards program sought to address the needs of this specific population by offering intensive job training through community service, combined with life skills and continuing education programming.  


Today, the GP Earth Stewards Program is a multi-agency program coordinated by The Garden Project. The Earth Stewards coalition includes The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, The San Francisco Police Department, and community organizations. Two programs comprise the Earth Stewards:


  • The GP Earth Stewards is a program for lower income young adults, San Francisco residents, ages 18-24. Earth Stewards must be enrolled in college, and participate in the program for three years. Earth Stewards work daily, all year round. In addition to their work, Earth Stewards participate in a mentoring program.


  • GP Earth Stewards High School Program participants are San Francisco residents who work daily during the summer program and on weekends during the school year. The summer hours and flexible school year hours allow participants to complete their high school studies while gaining job skills and peer support in a positive atmosphere. In addition to their work, High School Earth Stewards participate in environmentally based math and science classes, and receive academic mentoring during the school year



The Work of the Earth Stewards


The primary work of the Earth Stewards is the care and maintenance of the natural areas owned and operated by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. The SFPUC is responsible for the storage, quality control and distribution of the area's drinking water. The SFPUC properties include some 14,000 acres in the City and County of San Francisco, the Hetch Hetchy Watershed, and the Crystal Springs Reservoir.


In coordination with the SPPUC and under the supervision of SFPUC staff, participants support habitat maintenance projects at thirteen SFPUC sites and Hetch Hetchy in the Yosemite Valley. This work includes:


  • Planting and invasive weed management projects. Sites include the Clarendon Pump Station, College Hill Reservoir, Francisco Reservoir, Laguna Honda, Lombard Street Reservoir, Sutro Reservoir, and Crystal Springs.

  • Vegetation management projects at Hetch Hetchy. Their work includes clearing culverts and ditches, removing miles of dense vegetation around transmission lines, and removing and dispersing plants to prevent fires.

  • Maintaining the Garden Project’s California Native Plant Nursery, which includes a variety of grasses and

flowers. Stewards identify and collect seeds, and propagate plants.

Stewards work growing organic vegetables at the Garden Project’s farm at the San Francisco County Jail San Bruno Complex in San Mateo County. They learn composting, propagation, and planting techniques. Vegetables include kale, broccoli, potatoes, garlic, collard greens, zucchini, and Swiss Chard. The Garden Project farm comprises 15 cultivated acres. Facilities also include a greenhouse, hoop-house, and barn. All harvested vegetables are donated to poor families and seniors.


© 2013 The Garden Project San Francisco
© 2013 The Garden Project San Francisco

The Earth Stewards Impact


The work of The Garden Project’s Earth Stewards program serves the City and County of San Franciso, the County of San Mateo, and the Yosemite Valley. The daily work of the Stewards has a direct impact on maintaining the ecological health and diversity of this region. Recent projects include:

  • At  San Francisco’s Lake Merced (a freshwater lake and 614 acre park in the southwest corner of San Francisco), Stewards cultivated and installed over 10,000 California Native plants to support the restoration of this important local watershed.

  • Stewards cultivated and planted thousands of special salt-resistant native species to support the salt ponds in San Mateo.

  • In Hetch Hetchy, the work of Stewards to clear trails and invasive weeds prevents fires in the region and protects native species.  

  • Throughout San Francisco, Stewards have worked to maintain green areas by removing invasive weeds and debris, and by planting California Native plants.

  • At the Cyrstal Springs watershed, Stewards protect the area by removing weeds such french/scotch broom and non-native thistle.


The Project distributes vegetables grown by Stewards to local community agencies, including Project Open Hand, which each serve hundreds of individuals weekly. The pristine habitat of the San Francisco County Jail supports the Project’s ability to offer high quality organic produce for which we have become well known. Rather than relying on local supermarkets, who often donate only their unsalable items or having to purchase food, The Garden Project is able to provide local San Francisco agencies serving San Franciscans in need fresh food from the farm.


In addition to gaining a greater appreciation for the natural world, through environmentally based projects, participants learn discipline, responsibility, communication skills, and leadership. Working on long and short-term projects in a variety of settings, the program challenges participants toward self-growth and provides important life lessons. They gain support for their educational and life goals through the program’s positive environment.


The Huffington Post, California Watch, The New York Times’ Bay Citizen, and Earth Island Journal have all profiled The Earth Stewards Program.


Earth Stewards offers participants and society a real alternative – bringing more underrepresented groups into higher education, improving the economic outcomes of poor communities, revitalizing the City through public works projects, and ultimately saving on the costs of policing and incarceration. The work of Earth Stewards provides a stunning model for what city agencies and community organizations can do by pooling resources and needs to affect real change.

© 2013 The Garden Project San Francisco
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