I'm a high school junior, and since I was a freshman I've been trying to get my school to be more environmentally friendly. I've tried several different paths. The first was starting an environmental club - and it failed. Basically, kids use it to get something on their transcript and we haven't gotten anything done. The second major attempt of mine was to go directly to the school board. I proposed things to them at a meeting that would help the environment and save money. They very respectfully didn't act on any of my suggestions - although I did follow up with someone and found out that the school has been consistently reducing their energy usage.
I've tried a few other, smaller things, as well, but now I'm working on something that is so close to success I can taste it: a community garden.
This blog post is for a mini blog action day at GreenChange.org, where I am the "blogging coordinator." The theme is taking local action.
I've always been at least somewhat interested in gardening, although mostly it's just been helping my parents a few days a week in the big garden and yard we're lucky to have. However, maybe a year or two ago I started really getting involved in my backyard garden because of my environmentalism - I pushed my dad to get heirloom tomatoes, we expanded the vegetable garden, I pushed him to stop using chemicals, we started composting, and in April we even got three heritage breed chickens that are now giving us an egg a day each.
Merely doing this at my house is not enough. Sure, I talk to a lot of people about my chickens and I spread my ideas around to the people I talk to, but that just isn't enough. The world's warming, corporations are gaining an ever-increasing stranglehold on our lives, kids are getting fatter, and I could keep listing problems! The solution to all of this for me is to follow the absurdly true credo of "think globally, act locally." So I decided to start a community garden at my school.
A few months ago I approached my principal about it and she loved the idea. The food services director liked to it, too - which was a surprise, because the cafeteria's food is about 99% USDA provided processed mouse loaf, or its equivalent. In October I started holding meetings with a small group of interested students and we decided that we want to use sustainable methods like no-spray permaculture and go beyond the organic standards to make the food as sustainable and nutritious as possible. The garden will be supplying some of the district's cafeterias, which serve almost 5,000 students, and possibly some of the cooking classes. We will also be starting a composting system within at least the high school cafeterias, and possibly other areas.
Just last week, we held a meeting with some representatives from Whole Foods. While that company has somewhat of a bad reputation in parts of the liberal blogosphere, I have a new found respect for them. An organic farmer that works for them typically to find local sources of food will be helping us design and construct the garden. He's already motivated us and put us on the right track, and with his help we'll start growing things in a high tunnel (basically a greenhouse that doesn't use any energy) in January - very exciting!
Here is a basic description of the garden from a comment I left on another blog post:
I live in a pretty wealthy suburb, but the school lunches at my school are still crap. They're processed USDA food, which is as bad as it gets. We're going to be using permaculture and purely organic (some would say beyond organic) methods for the school garden. It will be on 2 acres of farmland the district just purchased and we'll have chickens and a high tunnel for growing year-round. The chickens will have an area to roam in about the size of the garden, and every year their position will be alternated with the garden so that their manure fertilizes the ground. So basically my point is that we'll be switching some of the least nutritious food around for some of the most nutritious food around. And this is especially good for the kids who depend on school for their food some days (yes, these kids even exist in the suburbs) - it will probably be the healthiest stuff in their diet.
Granted, we won't even be close to replacing all of the cafeterias' meals with local, organic food. But it's a start, and I'm excited.
Another point that I didn't mention in that comment is that any excess food that doesn't get used in the cafeterias will go to a local food bank, although the details of that have yet to be worked out.
This has been a surprisingly easy process, and I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed doing it. And the best parts have yet to come. So if you're despairing at the state of the health care debate or the environment or anything else, and I really can't stress enough that the best thing to do is get off the computer and get out into your community! Even if they're not as receptive to your ideas as my school has been, it's worth the fight and it's the area where you can have the most impact. My mom, for instance, without much help except from a handful of other residents, was able to stop the construction of town homes near my neighborhood a few years back - the area is now filled with sports fields and a small patch of woods and open fields. So if you care about global or national issues - or just local issues, then that's perfect - get out and do something about it! You can make a difference and you will if you start small.
In the words of Cindy Sheehan, "Work where you’re gonna make a difference. Work where you can celebrate victory!"