Eager to help empower youths and families through gardening, two Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) seniors led a volunteer effort this spring to grow more than 1,000 seedlings to support the Regional Environmental Council's (REC) programs.
Recent graduates Miri Becker and Vinny Sabo, founders of a food sustainability interest group at WPI, started the project after learning that the REC needed additional space and volunteers to help grow seedlings for its 10th annual Spring Garden Festival fundraiser. It was WPI’s first year with the program.
Working with Elisabeth Stoddard, WPI assistant teaching professor of social science and policy studies and co-director of the university's Center for Sustainable Food Systems, the students secured space in the Biology and Biotechnology Department’s on-campus greenhouse for the seedlings, which are various types of peppers. They tended to the plants with other members of the food sustainability interest group, including fellow senior Alexander Zitoli, Kayleah Griffin '18, Rachel Swanson '18, Dan Amirault '18, Ryan Cooney '18, and Ariel Goldner '19.
"For everyone involved, it's been a great learning experience," Becker said. "There was an aspect of accountability in that we had to be there twice a day to make sure the seedlings were healthy. It also brought together the community of students on campus who are interested in food sustainability issues. It's been really powerful."
"I think the most important thing to come out of this project is the relationship between WPI and the REC," Sabo said. "It was eye-opening and inspiring for me to learn about their programs, how they make organic produce available in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and empower people by teaching them to grow their own produce. It was great to be a part of REC's mission and have a sense of community."
"The students achieved their mission to leave a legacy and engage other students in food sustainability issues," Stoddard said. "Their initiative has created momentum."
Through its partnerships, the REC grew approximately 10,000 produce and flower seedlings for this year’s Spring Garden Festival, which was held on May 21. Half of the seedlings were sold during the festival to raise money to support the program, while the other 5,000 seedlings will be used by two area programs, YouthGROW (Youth Growing Organics in Worcester) and the School Gardens Project. YouthGROW is an urban agriculture-focused youth development and employment program for low-income teens that teaches leadership and jobs skills through the maintenance of two urban organic farms. The School Gardens Project teaches the educational, nutritional, and social benefits of gardening through the operation of 23 gardens located at schools and youth centers around the city.
For more information on the REC Spring Garden Festival, look here.