Food Justice Inspires Connecticut River Academy Students
What began on Friday with a few plots of soil, some seeds, and a little bit of elbow grease will soon bloom into vegetable gardens that will be a fixture of the Connecticut River Academy.
Students from all grades helped establish the first plots of the gardens, aided by staff from neighboring Goodwin College and the expertise of Summer of Solutions in Hartford.
The magnet high school is studying sustainable and local growing methods in an effort to grow vegetables, among other issues in its current “Food Justice” unit. In the process, the students are learning about the environment and gaining an appreciation of local and healthy food.
“It’s a great project to help us come together and be more like a family,” said 9th grader Tristan Pettengill, of Colchester.
The students worked with volunteers at different plots as they learned gardening techniques. At one station, Goodwin’s Sandy Pearce – who coordinates the hugely successful Goodwin Community Garden on Main Street in East Hartford – taught students how to use a wooden pallet to create an ideal vertical garden. Pettengill and fellow students Rachael Koelsch and Evelyn Hamilton listened intently as Pearce explained how to fasten porous fabric to the bottom of the pallet, then use the slats on top to create perfect horizontal rows ideal for growing vine vegetables.
At another station, Jennifer Roach of Summer of Solutions in Hartford supervised as students spread soil and manure in a garden box, preparing to plant a range of veggies that includes lettuce, peppers, eggplants, and carrots.
“They’ve been wonderful and really enthusiastic,” said Roach of the Connecticut River Academy students. “They’ve been willing to get dirty, which is super important when working in gardens.”
The garden boxes will soon find a home on the new roof of the permanent Connecticut River Academy building, which is under construction on the Goodwin College campus and is expected to open next school year. The gardens are just one of the many green features of the new school, which has a curriculum themed on environmental science and uses the Connecticut River as a learning resource.
The day was perfect for gardening, and in the late morning, Goodwin College Vice President of Economic and Strategic Development Todd Andrews officially dedicated the garden. Holding up a giant photo of what Riverside Drive looked like before Goodwin remediated the property, Andrews explained how the garden was being planted in an area that was once the site of millions of gallons of oil.
The College partnered with the State and other agencies to clean the site and make it suitable and safe for
new use, a project that has been heralded as a prime example of brownfield cleanup and redevelopment. Now, in place of the giant fuel tanks, Riverside Drive now boasts a major college and three magnet schools.
“The dedication of this garden is a testament to the transformation of this land,” Andrews said.
All the Best Ingredients
Elsewhere, Academy students busied themselves in the cafeteria, preparing dishes from ingredients that are easily accessible and nutritious. Phys. Ed and Health teacher Tom Kilgus – a former executive chef at a country club – supervised the effort and was pleased with what he tasted and saw.
“The students are doing fantastic,” Kilgus said. “They’re really working well as a team.”
Eleventh grader Jessica Cox and 10th grader Kevin Bianchi found themselves blending chickpeas, garlic, and tahini among other ingredients as they made hummus. The pair credit themselves as good cooks and were very much enjoying the day’s theme.
“I’m an aspiring chef and this is fun for me,” said Cox, tasting a spoonful of hummus.
Goodwin College’s Auditorium hosted the biggest event of the day, a presentation on “clean food” by author Terry Walters. She explained to the students that almost everything they ate, wore, or used on a daily basis originates in plants, everything from the fuels they put into their cars to the ingredients that fill their cereal bowls.
“Everything you need comes from a plant,” Walters said.
Walters is the author of cookbooks Clean Food and Clean Start and writes a popular blog about living and eating well. She regularly speaks to groups on themes of healthy food, as well as counseling individuals and groups and health. You can find her blog at www.terrywalters.net.
Visit our Flickr page to see more pictures of the garden planting and dedication, as well as other activities from throughout the day.
Goodwin Environmental Science students are encouraged to visit the Summer of Solutions website for a listing of opportunities for seasonal work as program leaders.