<b>LEARNING WHILE HELPING:</b> This is a recent shot of the Youth Drought Project, which is managed by Brad Smith (back right).
Courtesy Photo

The Youth Drought Project (YDP) helps make Santa Barbara yards more drought-tolerant by helping property owners use sheet mulching to convert their lawns to more sustainable gardens and install rainwater harvesting systems. The nonprofit organization also serves as a work training program for the high-school- and college-age students involved, teaching them skills to use in the real world and paying them for their time.

During a work session on November 17, one such student-employee, Stefani Valdez, explained that she heard about the program from a job-opportunity email sent out by Santa Barbara High School. “It said you didn’t need experience and you could start getting paid,” she said. “I have been working here for a month, and all my friends do it, and we’re always together. It’s not a normal job. There’s different locations, and you don’t just work the same job.” When asked about what she’s taken away from the experience, Valdez replied, “I’ve learned responsibility of a job and ways to save water now that we’re in a drought.”

Also working that day was Brandy Flores, who saw the job posted on flyers in Santa Barbara High’s college and career center. She was focused on sheet mulching the property’s lawn, a process in which the Youth Drought Project covers the grass with cardboard and mulch, thereby killing it but creating a rich, moist soil for future planting. “It’s a better way to have a yard in Santa Barbara because of the drought,” said Flores. “It’s a way for it to still look pretty. It’s better than a dry grass lawn.”

Once the grass dies and cardboard decomposes, low-water landscaping can be planted, and roof-rainwater-harvesting and irrigation systems can be installed to keep them alive. Best of all for homeowners, much of the work that the Youth Drought Project does is subsidized by the state, said YDP founder and manager Brad Smith, who explained that rebates cover up to $2,000 and that the group will also handle the processing. Even dead or dormant grass can qualify for the rebate, said Smith, who also added that the group is working with a retired landscape contractor and is now available for complete relandscaping services.

For more info, call Brad Smith at (805) 705-5844 or email bsmith.interplay@gmail.com.


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