Photo: Olivia Cronin and Ann Pan cutting the ribbon at the Belmont High School Food Justice Club’s Garden.
Looking for the dedicated plot of land – with its new fence, plants and a whole lot vegetables growing adjacent to the Grant Baseball Field at Belmont High School – Olivia Cronin thinks back a little more than a year ago when she and Maggie O’Brien decided to start a garden on campus.
“It’s very nostalgic, I’ll have a hard time letting go,” said the 18-year-old this past Monday, as she prepares to matriculate at McGill University in the next few weeks.
“But the four girls taking over, it’s in good hands,” she said.
In its second growing season, the Belmont High School Garden and Food Justice Club held a ribbon cutting ceremony this past Monday, Aug. 17, to hail the garden’s success and recent improvements.
“It’s a celebration of the past two years where we saw a lot of improvement and success in the garden,” said Cronin, who along with fellow recent Belmont High graduate O’Brien, symbolically handed off the garden to the next group of student volunteers.
[Source: Video thanks Lucas Tragos/Belmont Media Center]
The student-led club founded the school’s first vegetable garden in the spring of 2014 “with the practical purpose was supplying food to the [Belmont] Food Pantry,” said Cronin, noting that all the food in the pantry is canned goods, so “it’s nice to have the fresh food,” including eggplants, beans and tomatoes.
“When they first came to us last year, they would have a small box with a few tomatoes and some beans. Now a year later, they came in yesterday with eight eggplants and two huge zucchinis,” said Food Pantry Director Patty Mihelich, whose non-profit receives the bounty of the student’s garden.
“I had a new person come to the pantry and she was so excited the fact that we had fresh produce which is so expensive at the stores,” said Mihelich.
The BHS Garden is cared for by students during the school year and summer and during the non-growing season the club hosts a Winter Food Drive, as well as other projects and trips.
During its first summer, the garden’s four beds hosted tomatoes, eggplant, bush beans, broccoli and beets, with seedling donations from Belmont Acres Farms.
In its second season, the garden received a grant from The Whole Kids Foundation to finance a cedar post fencing and blueberry bushes that will give the four garden beds some durability.
The student garden is now in the hands of Ammu Dinesh, Brett Koslowsky, Alena Jaeger and Ann Pan, with a goal of continue expanding, increasing the school’s involvement in the garden and promoting conversation about sustainable growing and food insecurity in Belmont.
“We hope to see the garden expand in the future,” said Cronin, “since this brings the whole community together, high school students providing for other community members in the same area.”
Cronin noted assistance from Belmont High Principal Dan Richards and Fred Domenici, the school’s head of grounds, Mike Chase of Belmont Acres Farm for seedling donations; Joan Teebagy of the Belmont Food Collaborative for writing The Whole Kids Grant; Suzanne Johannet of the Belmont Food Collaborative for her guidance and practical support; and Michael LaPierre of ML Fencing for donating the fence installation labor.
For Richards, the plot is an opening to broaden students outlook.
“The kids deserve all the credit for the garden from the very beginning in my office to today where they have faced all the challenges of keeping this going,” he said. “I think they learned a great deal of project-based planning and responsibility as well as giving back to the community.”
“And it’s another way for the kids to think about hunger and how to support people in need,” said Mihelich.