Gardener Apprenticeship follows legacy for SF Golden Gate Park Special

Posted Feb 3, 2012 by Jonathan Farrell
The bit of cold weather that suddenly made its way to San Francisco mid-January did not deter gardeners in Golden Gate Park from attending to the trees at the Music Concourse.
Bare branches needed pruning as rain was forecast and a storm was brewing. Bringing tall ladders and pruning shears along, a team of gardeners went from tree to tree as tourists and visitors to the de Young Museum and California Academy of Science strolled across the concourse taking in the sites.
Among the gardening teams that day on Jan 19 was John Raulli, coordinator of the Gardener Apprenticeship Program. This program was inaugurated in Dec. of 2010. Two in the apprenticeship program, John Johnson, a resident of the Sunset District and Eric Su, a resident of the Richmond District, were with him. They met with this reporter to talk about the program which was established two years ago by veteran gardeners to raise the standard of gardening care of public parks in the City.
"This program is an example of public-private partnerships at work," said Raulli. The Gardener Apprenticeship Program works in conjunction with City College of San Francisco's Horticultural Department and Laborers' Local 261, The Mayor's Office on Economic & Workforce Development and others. "Improving the standards, Rec. & Park Dept. wanted to meet or exceed the State of California's requirements, and in that we had to get a local education agency, like City College to help for this apprenticeship program," Raulli said.
Apprentices like Su and Johnson complete 4,000 hours of supervised on-the-job training while attending courses at City College. Training in the Landscape Gardening & Landscape Contracting is part of the curriculum and it is from this that the formal training of Gardener Apprentice Program is based. City College's Horticulture department provides instruction and training in Environmental and Landscaping horticulture as well as landscape design and floristry.
The apprenticeship takes about two years to complete, along with the required courses.
"The five college courses that our apprentices are required to complete for the program are unpaid and our apprentices take the classes at night," said Raulli. Upon completing the apprenticeship program, successful apprentices are able to take the City's civil code exam #3417 of Gardener-Journeyman. This program is a great way for candidates to discern if this type of work is for them," said Rauilli. He pointed out that most of the work is rigorous and challenging, some candidates make it and others don't," he said. Still, he sees it as a great opportunity for those who want to work with their hands and be outdoors.
Since the program's inception two years ago SF Dept. of Public Works has also launched an apprenticeship program with the help of Laborers' Local 261 and others.
Pleased with the apprenticeship experience, Johnson said, "I am loving it!" He and Su see the program as vital and extremely beneficial. "I get to see and work at many different parts of the City," said Johnson. Golden Gate Park consists of over 1100 acres, consisting of many different types of plants and flowers. Rec. & Parks Dept. manages over 30 other parks and open space locations in the City, giving apprentices a wide range of landscape terrain, soil and plant life to experience. Even before the onset of the economic downturn, Rec. & Park has been struggling to maintain the significant of open space and parklands provided for public use.
"This is an opportunity to learn different skills which can range from turf management and habitat restoration to highly skilled gardening techniques. "I have counted 50 different areas in my work so far," Johnson said. "There are so many different applications that apprentices learn," said Johnson.
Su agreed as he said, "I can see this apprenticeship as part of 'green jobs' which Su noted is a field that is growing. "And for me the program has been a great opportunity, a chance at another career," Su said.
Rec. & Park has been promoting more environmentally friendly techniques and materials used in gardening and landscaping. As part of the training with City College, environmental horticulture is a goal in the apprenticeship program.
Professional organizations such as the California Landscape Contractors Association, the California Association of Nurserymen and the San Francisco Professional Gardeners Association recognize the Environmental Horticultural program at City College and provide scholarship assistance for outstanding students.
"We avoid using chemicals," said Johnson, even on (more meticulously manicured) areas like the golf course at Harding Park," he noted. "Maintaining PGA standards is important, noted Johnson, but it is important to maintain environmentally green standards too."
Both Su and Johnson said that they are confident with the skills and training they received through the program because it prepares them well. "Candidates who complete this program will know what they are doing, because they will have plenty of experience and on-the-job training," said Johnson. Su and Johnson said they are confident they will be able to work just about any where when they graduate.
Raulli is very proud of the program because as he said, "Golden Gate Park's first superintendent, John McLaren started his long career in the Park as a gardener apprentice in England, before coming to the United States." McLaren while it has been noted by historians that he was very strict during his tenure as superintendent of the Park, he valued hardworking gardeners and provided them with opportunities to expand their skills and expertise.
"In a way we are preserving and carrying on in McLaren's legacy," said Raulli. "Six more will be joining the Gardener Apprenticeship program and by February of this year, the program hopes to have a total of 25," Raulli said.
For more information about the Gardener Apprenticeship Program contact John Raulli, Apprenticeship Coordinator at San Francisco Recreation and Parks web site.