The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Growing Empowerment harvests improvement

The growing empowerment program, which bloomed this past July and August, offers students the opportunity to work in gardens across the town and visit food justice sites.

From seed to sprout, the Growing Empowerment program blossomed this past July and August. Once just an idea, the program was a wide success.

Growing Empowerment was founded by social studies teacher Roger Grande. The summer program offers high school students the opportunity to work in gardens across Brookline and visit different food justice sites, such as The Food Project in Dorchester. The students learn about the intertwining topics of sustainability, food sovereignty, culture and heritage while also receiving a salary of $15 per hour.

There are three main elements of the program: classroom sessions dedicated to various topics regarding food justice and history, farming in gardens across the Brookline Public Schools and trips to numerous food justice sites. These different elements each tapped into the core goals of this summer program, such as weaving sustainability and climate into the curriculum, understanding how the food system in the United States exploits different people based on race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status and tapping into emotional wellbeing through outdoor spaces.

One primary goal of this program was to incorporate sustainability and climate change into the curriculum. To do this, students spent significant time gardening and farming in outdoor spaces. Grande said the hands-on teachings of this program empowered students to care for and understand the environment around them on an interpersonal level.

“I’m trying to create more programming where students are more connected to nature,” Grande said. “Climate change affects our natural systems as well as our human systems, but having that connection to our natural systems gives us a lot of insight and prompts a sense of stewardship and change-making that is needed to address climate change.”

The classroom sessions and trips to various food justice sites defined the second key part of this program: learning about the intertwining topics regarding the way food is used in the United States. Grande said one specific topic the program examined was how food sovereignty, culture and racism have been interconnected since the beginnings of our country.

“One week, we focused on culture and identity. We read and talked a lot about African food ways and particularly as Africans arrived in the Americas and were enslaved, they were stripped of their traditional foods and food ways. There’s a big movement now to reclaim that, to heal, to go back to the land and to work on food sovereignty,” Grande said.

Senior Bella Jacopille said some of the ideas discussed in the classroom were demonstrated in the real world through the program’s weekly trips.

“We went to Mei Mei [Dumplings] in South Boston and we spoke with the owner, Irene [Li], about how she incorporates food justice and sustainability in her restaurant. It’s such a difficult thing to be a large scale, sustainable restaurant, but she just explained it so well,” Jacopille said. “It was really lovely to hear from her and to see how she’s working so hard and [how] she’s making such a big impact on her community.

The program also visited the Food Project in Dorchester, the Urban Farming Institute in Mattapan and the Dorchester Food Co-Op in Boston. Senior Edie Kindall said through these trips, her eyes opened to the farming and food justice work being done all around Boston.

“I think oftentimes people think that in really developed areas, it’s just building and empty parking lots and bus stops, but there is a lot of really intense farm work that is happening, even if it’s in cities,” Kindall said. “You could be driving on one of the biggest roads, and then, one block over is this huge, sprawling farm you would never know was there if you never went back there.”

While this program is centered around farming, learning about heritage and culture and understanding the numerous systemic injustices within our food system, Grande said there is also a mental and emotional health aspect of Growing Empowerment.

“There is a lot of evidence that young people benefit from working in food production [and] in gardening,” Grande said. “The act of getting your hands in the soil, of seeing something that you started and how it changed over time and grew [is powerful]. There are all kinds of dimensions [that] tend to have really positive impacts on us emotionally and psychologically.”

Jacopille said she experienced firsthand the serenity and emotional support that these outdoor spaces can offer.

“Just being around nature so much is so rewarding for your mental health and for just being alive,” Jacopille said. “When you’re around gardens so much, around life that’s growing, it just makes you happy.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All comments are reviewed by Cypress staff before being published. To read our complete policy, see our policies underneath the About tab.
All The Cypress Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *