Growing Together was created in February 2013 to plant fruit trees in urban neighborhoods in order to improve the environment, build community, and create a long term source of local healthy food in neighborhoods with a lack of tree cover, and classified as “food deserts”.
We work with schools and community groups to organize fruit tree plantings, facilitate peace and justice dedication ceremonies, and provide free education workshops for community members on how to steward the urban forest.
Learn more about our work and how to participate through exploring the Programs and Get Involved sections of this website. We are currently accepting inquiries from community centers, schools, residential programs and more to plant fruit trees at your site.
Staff, Advisory Board and Volunteer BIOS
Grey Kolevzon; Co-Director
Originally from Berkeley, Grey Kolevzon has worked full-time since 1995 with East Bay public schools and nonprofit organizations to develop projects that improve community health and sustainability. These include helping to develop 30 school & community gardens, leading over 2,000 bicycle- and transit-based outdoor education programs, teaching ecological science and sustainable agriculture at 50+ Oakland public schools, and co-developing several successful “green” enterprises (including Cycles of Change). Grey teaches ecological field studies and urban agriculture, and is a development consultant for Oakland-based non-profit organizations.
Grey supports Growing Together with grant writing, program development and building partnerships with local schools.
adélàjà simon, Co-Director
Raised in Baltimore, adélàjà is a first generation U.S.er of Yoruba and Haitian descent. He uses his body and life as a vessel to lift others up and to explore the question, 'What does a truly regenerative, place-based human culture that is rooted in ancestral wisdom look like?' Whether he’s farming, cooking, leading trainings, offering bodywork, speaking at schools, or accompanying you on a walk, adélàjà embodies his beliefs and invites you into this exploration in a way that instantly touches your heart. adélàjàa is a member of the BayNVC board of directors. The Work that Reconnects, Restorative Circles and Permaculture practices are some of the processes that he guides. He is currently studying with the Animas Valley Institute, and working with Growing Together to plant fruiting trees and foster food forestry in and around community spaces in Oakland, CA.
adélàjà supports creating our designs, guides medicine making education programming, and helps lead our ceremonial plantings.
Aaron Toy, Educator, Nursery Manager
Aaron is a gardener, educator, and activist, born and raised in the Bay Area, with family roots in San Francisco Chinatown. He had the opportunity of studying Environmental Science at Cal State University Long Beach, where it became clear the contrast in environmental justice between his upbringing in the North Bay compared with industrial/port cities like, Long Beach or Oakland. This unjust contrast led him to fight for food, environmental, and racial justice. He has been active in the formation and growth of Full Harvest Farm in East Oakland, a people of color led collective working for food justice and sovereignty. He throws down with Asian4BlackLives, a network fighting anti-black racism in Asian communities. He is also an ally of Anakbayan East Bay, through which he participated in an exposure trip, with the chance to build international solidarity with people in the Philippines fighting against corporate agriculture, land grabbing and capitalism. He is inspired on the daily by the intelligent and resilient youth he works with in the garden at Castlemont High.
Aaron is an educator at our plantings sites around the city.
Maricelle Cardenas, Administration and Grants Programs Management
Maricelle Cardenas is a community educator with a background in technical writing, environmental science, and a Master's in Environment and Development from King's College London. Over the past 10 years, she has worked with various NGOs from Burkina Faso to Manila, supporting work in climate change adaptation, waste and pollution, natural resource conservation, water and sanitation, and social equity. She continues to work in the waste reduction sector, with StopWaste, specifically on the issue of food waste.
Maricelle is our administrative manager, and supports with organizational development, tracking and grants management.
Mallika Nair, Founder
Mallika Nair is a gardener, permaculturist and food justice activist. A first-generation American, born in NYC, Mallika developed a passion for social work from a young age, and was deeply impacted by the juxtaposition of family time in nature in Pennsylvania and the lack of green space and healthy food in her neighborhood In Queens growing up. After studying food systems at the Honors college of Florida, New College, she spent years working on the ground to implement local, just, non-wasteful and sustainable food systems, mostly through small-scale community agriculture, gleaning, and activism for the rights of farmworkers. In 2013, at the age of 24, Mallika started Growing Together, a nonprofit program planting fruit trees for peace and food justice, based in Oakland California. Growing Together has since planted over 850 fruit trees in Oakland schools and communities and offered education programs to over 2,000 Oakland youth.
Mallika manages the day-to-day programs, works on fundraising with the support of key board members, and runs tree plantings and education programs.
David Jaber; inNative, Blue Star Integrative Studio
David Jaber is a founder of inNative and Director of Optimization at Blue Star Integrative Studio, two firms that advance better decision-making by companies and communities through performance evaluation, greenhouse gas analysis and zero waste audits. He is a longtime grantwriter and fundraiser for community food security, urban farming, regional planning and environmental action fronts, having led or participated in teams that have collectively raised over $3 million. He is also a U.S. Green Building Council LEED AP of ten years (www.usgbc.org), a Project Drawdown Fellow (www.drawdown.org), a former United Nations Life Cycle Impact Assessment working group member, and a former co-chair of Tribal P2 to advance environmental health in Indian Country. Most important, he is a tireless volunteer on renewable, non-toxic, ecological, and equitable fronts.
David supports Growing Together with grant writing, fundraising, staying in touch with the broader urban forestry advocacy and funding streams, and coming out to events to plant trees!
Mira Manickam- Shirley: Executive Director, Brown Girl Surf; Founder, Trees 4 Life; Former Program Officer, Oakland Parks and Recreation
Mira Manickam-Shirley is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Brown Girl Surf. She is a long time environmental educator and artist in the San Francisco Bay area, former Youth Program Coordinator at NatureBridge, and a recipient of an Open Circle artist grant, and an Audobon Toyota TogetherGreen fellowship for her innovative work with youth in nature. She holds a degree in Environmental Studies from Brown University and a Master of Environmental Science from the Yale School of Forestry. She is the author of the book Just Enough, available through the University of Washington press.
Mira supports Growing Together with curriculum development and organizational development.
Christopher Shein: Professor, Merritt Community College Landscape Horticulture Department; Permaculture Designer, Wildheart Gardens
Christopher Shein is an East Bay California permaculture designer, landscaper, gardener, and author whose gardening and social activism roots run deep.
After landing in Oakland, Christopher helped launch Spiral Gardens Community Food Security Project, and BASIL (Bay Area Seed Interchange Library) and stayed actively involved in community gardens, school gardens, and public space food gardens. In 2002, he was invited to teach at Merritt College in the Landscape Horticulture Department, and Merritt now has an acre of developing food forest. Christopher’s book, The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture: Creating an Edible Ecosystem, was published by Timber Press in January, 2013.
Christopher supports Growing Together with plant selection and propagation, support through Merritt College’s Landscape Horticulture department and technical advising.
Gary Malachi Scott; Restorative Justice Facilitator, North Oakland Restorative Justice Council
Gary “Malachi” Scott is a restorative justice facilitator, musician, and activist. He is currently the re-entry/community restorative justice coordinator for Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth. He is also a co-founder of the North Oakland Restorative Justice Council. Malachi has written articles in the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and has been featured on other articles around the issue of incarceration. He came to restorative justice through the Victim Offender Education Group, a program of the Insight Prison Project, while incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison. During his incarceration he obtain an Associate's Degree, co-founded a R.J. based group called Kid C.A.T. (Creating Awareness Together), and was the sports editor for the San Quentin News.
Malachi supports Growing Together with developing and running our Restorative Justice and memorial tree plantings.
Vanitha Venugopal; Consultant, Former program Director at San Francisco Foundation
Vanitha Venugopal has over thirty years of experience serving communities across the U.S., from New York City to San Francisco. Vanitha has done extensive work in philanthropy, transit-oriented development, energy efficiency and renewable energy in affordable housing. She was the Director of Community Development and Investment at The San Francisco Foundation for the Pacific Region and the Vice President at NeighborWorks America.
Vanitha supports Growing Together with editing grants, and program reporting.
Alexa Levy, Educator, Founder Permaculture Action Network
Alexa Levy is an educator, public school teacher, permaculturist, fighter for restorative social and ecological justice, and an artist. Over the past few years, in various positions, she has dedicated her life to working with underprivileged youth as a facilitator of learning, offering them tools to becoming their best self. She is also a founder and facilitator with Permaculture Action Network, bringing permaculture education to the masses through arts and music.
Alexa supports Growing Together to develop curriculum, design tree plantings for various sites and age groups, and leads tree plantings with us.