August 20, 2015: Community Gardening at Belmont High

August 20, 2015: Belmont Citizen-Herald

There has been fresh produce at Belmont’s Food Pantry in recent weeks.  One of the local suppliers of that fresh food has been the Belmont High Garden and Food Justice Club.

Under the leadership of 2015 BHS graduate Olivia Cronin, a group of Belmont High students has learned both the agriculture and administrative side of growing local food.  According to Cronin, the students first sought permission to create a BHS garden in the Fall of 2013.  BHS principal Dan Richards outlined what the students needed to do to pursue their idea: develop a statement of purpose supported by an implementation work-plan; work with school staff to identify an appropriate location; demonstrate significant and stable student interest; and enlist the support of a sponsoring community organization.

“It wasn’t easy,” Cronin said. By the spring of 2014, however, the BHS club, working with the Belmont Food Collaborative and school facilities director Fred Domenici, was building beds and planting seedlings. Ongoing financial support for the club is provided by the Food Collaborative.

One purpose of the Collaborative, according to local leader Suzanne Johannet, is to support local growing.  For example, she says, the Food Collaborative was awarded a grant by the Whole Kids Foundation to fund the construction of the new fence and the blueberry plants for the BHS garden.  Work with the BHS students included discussions about what fencing to choose, based on functionality, appearance and cost.  “When the plants start producing,” Johannet says, “the fresh fruit will be a welcome addition to the Food Pantry.” Nonetheless, she continues, the students will also remember all the “business” discussions that preceded that result.

Cronin, who is off to McGill University this fall to study environmental science, said the BHS garden is an outgrowth of the Community Growing Project sponsored by the Belmont Food Collaborative.  Another garden that is part of the Community Growing Project, Cronin said, is maintained by Beth El Temple next to its parking lot.

In this sense, Cronin says, the BHS garden is far more than a student project.  “The garden is a good way to show how easy it is for individuals to take little steps that collectively have big impacts.”  Cronin believes that “small scale community gardening” is one way to promote community self-sufficiency.  Through educational events such as this year’s Hunger Banquet at the high school, the BHS club seeks to spread the word about the benefits of community gardening. Long term, Cronin says she hopes the BHS garden will eventually lead the way to introducing locally-grown food into Belmont’s school cafeterias.

Cronin lights up as she talks about the crew of BHS students who “water and weed” each week.  Harvesting is tied to when the Food Pantry is open, four days a month.  The responsibility, however, is ongoing.  Cronin points out that the garden is not a project that can receive student attention only when they choose to do so, or when they are not “too busy” doing something else.

For her work, Cronin received awards this spring both from Belmont High and from the Belmont Food Collaborative.  She shrugs off the recognition.  The focus, she says, should instead be on the fact that the BHS club is actually demonstrating that the food we eat need not be shipped in at great environmental and economic expense.

She’s right, of course.  The real legacy Cronin and her BHS student colleagues leave the Belmont community is the fact that the BHS Garden and Food Justice Club will continue to plant, grow, harvest and deliver tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, bush beans, broccoli and other vegetables and fruit for use in our local community.

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