As autumn comes this week, Belmont gardeners will be busy harvesting the promise of what was sowed in the spring.
But unlike most of Belmont’s small gardens located in backyards or along sunny sidewalls, one is situated close to the baseball batting cages at Belmont High School. The four raised beds are filled with a summer growing season of eggplants, tomatoes, lettuce and green beans.
Nor will the garden’s yield end up on the dinner plates of those who dedicated the past year to its creation and care. Those benefiting from the effort of a dozen young growers will be those most in need in the community.
In a project promoting awareness and action around food in town and around the globe, members of Belmont High School’s Garden and Food Justice Club have been dropping off the garden’s harvest to the Belmont Food Pantry, which serves residents desperate for food aid.
“The entire experience of making a garden and harvesting is very exciting, but the best impact is see this food being delivered to the people who need it and enjoy it,” said senior Maggie O’Brien, who with fellow senior Olivia Cronin led the effort to establish the garden and start the club.
“There is another part of our town filled with people who don’t have enough money to provide food and especially fresh produce, so walking in with all these vegetables is great to see how this helps,” she said.
Partnering with the Belmont Food Collaborative – the people who sponsor the Belmont Farmers Market – the initial blueprint for a garden and later the club was the brainchild of Cronin who served two years as a Collaborative intern in its Community Growings program where residents plant a garden to raise fresh produce for the Food Pantry.
“I thought this was a practical project since I had the background, and the Food Pantry is located at the High School,” said Cronin.
In the summer of 2013, Cronin and O’Brien, with the help from Collaborative member Suzanne Johannet and Joan Teebagy, started the process of creating a garden plot like one established at the Beth El Temple Center on Concord Avenue.
But “[i]t turned out to be a lot harder than what we thought it would be,” said O’Brien, with long negotiations between the girls and the school administration on where the garden would be located and establishing a club to garner student support.
After the approval of the current garden location, the girls began organizing the club around gardening and food justice.
“We asked students to help start a local garden on campus as well as become involved in food insecurity and global food issues,” said Cronin, who said the club received a great deal of interest.
While waiting for spring, the club’s held a food drive competition and brought speakers in during the High School’s Global Awareness Week. It also sponsored a hunger banquet in which participants randomly draw tickets assigning them to a high-, middle- or low-income country based on the latest statistics about the number of people living in poverty. Each income level then receives a corresponding meal.
When spring finally came in May, the club built the raised beds; the collaborative provided wood and seeds with soil donated by Hillside Garden & True Value on Blanchard Road.
“It was a lot of fun to have a solid visual that a garden was growing on campus,” said Cronin.
After planting the seeds, Cronin and O’Brien said there were “definitely some issues” getting students to commit to a garden schedule during the height of the growing season which ran during the summer break. Finally, six club members “could be counted on to come and water, weed and harvest,” said Cronin.
“Summer is a hectic time for all of us, but people continued to stay involved,” said O’Brien.
With the garden up and running, the girls ran into some practical problems.
“We quickly learned that broccoli was a favorite of a predator. We didn’t know what it was until someone sent us a photo of the geese reaching into the beds,” said Cronin.
Currently, the club has picked a row of green beans, two variety of tomatoes, beets, lettuce and eggplants all which “tends to go quickly by pantry customers,” said Cronin.
Like O’Brien, Cronin said the experience of walking over to the pantry with a handful of produce and talking to those waiting in line to the Pantry to fill their boxes and bags with what the club has grown has been a transformative experience.
“The customers are all really appreciative, and that makes a big impact on myself,” said Cronin, who said the garden itself has been a welcome success.
“I had high expectations for the garden, but I honestly been surprised how its turned out as well as it has,” she noted.
“I’d come during the summer just to water and stay for an hour just weeding. It’s nice to be out here. It’s a little oasis from the high school,” Cronin said.