Brooke Taylor, Emaline Mason, and Yasmine Powers
Have you ever heard of a club completely dedicated to improving campus life by environmental improvement and beautification? Well, if you’ve heard of Roots and Shoots, then you have. Roots and Shoots is a national organization that focuses on making environmental improvements at both high schools and colleges, said club adviser Jim Tuck. The club was started seven years ago, and has been on and off through the years. Mr. Tuck only took over advising the club three years ago. Last October, the four current club officers: seniors Amanda Hamernik, Cameron Howe, Jeremy Wells and Eileen Tan approached Tuck seeking to plant a vegetable garden by the school. The officers implemented the garden on their own last April and have been taking care of it since.
Over the summer the four club officers maintained the garden. “We would come up to the high school every other day, during the summer and water the garden, and weed it out,” said Tan, the club’s president. The garden is located just outside the vice principals’ offices and can be seen from Spanish teachers Simone Pacilio’s and Henry Cline’s classrooms. Everything grown in the garden is fully organic. The vegetables they grew over the summer were harvested three weeks ago, and they gave the harvest to the cafeteria. In the garden, the officers grew assorted peppers, carrots, and spinach. The cafeteria staff incorporated the summer vegetables into one batch of soup, and only had a few pieces left over to put into a salad. Although the garden has only been functioning for a short time, people have tasted a positive difference from that first usage of the produce. “I definitely saw an improvement in the taste of the soup,” said Tuck, who has eaten the cafeteria food for his entire time at J-DHS.
Rita Vedsted, district manager of the cafeterias for 17 years, was quite pleased with the turnout of using the clubs’ vegetables in the school’s soup. “I made a really nice soup with all the fresh veggies, and it was a hit. The spinach they gave us was actually better than what I buy at the store. You could taste the freshness.” said Vedsted.
The cafeteria only received one batch of vegetables, so it won’t affect the budget of the cafeteria. Hamernik, the club treasurer, has very clear goals for the club. “We wanted to bring some form of fresh, good food without GMOs and pesticides into the school, and also other places if we can bring it to them, like food pantries,” said Hamernick.
Though the harvest was successful, the club faced some struggles. “We need to make sure none of the roots of plants are attacking other plants’ roots, trying to kill them off. Which, we had a bit of an issue with, with the lettuce, because it didn't grow that well, but other than that all of our other plants are growing pretty good,” said Hamernick. Another issue was that the garden had few people to maintain it. “The maintenance was only kept up by a couple people,” said Tan. Fortunately, the garden only faced one incident with an animal. “There was only one pepper that got eaten by a deer, but besides that [the garden] was secluded enough so that we didn’t have a huge animal problem,” said Tan.
With winter on its way, many of the vegetables will die because it is an outdoor garden. However, not all hope is lost. “Some plants are meant to be grown during the winter time, and they come in the spring, we might grow them over the winter. But still, winter is definitely our hardest season,” said Hamernick.
Originally the Roots and Shoots members wanted to donate the fresh vegetables to the Food Bank. Although that didn’t happen with the first batch, they plan to donate parts of the crop after they expand the garden.
Despite providing enough vegetables for the school’s soup, the garden itself is only 4 feet by 8 feet. This year they’re looking to expand the garden and gain new members. “We’re trying to get (Principal Paul) Gasparini to expand the garden for years to come,” said Cameron Howe, vice president of the club. This is the garden’s first year of producing vegetables and the club officers are looking to continue growing produce in the garden. Trying to gain new members that are underclassmen has proven to be a struggle. All of the club’s members are seniors and they’re looking for students to overtake the club after they graduate, and maintain the garden. They meet every Thursday and Friday during Activity Period in R07. “Please let us know if you’re interested because this is our biggest concern; who will maintain it after we graduate.” said Hamernick.