Project Sprout

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Great Barrington, Massachusetts— Amid soccer fields, parking lots, baseball fields and the everyday commotion at Monument Mountain Regional High School, there is a 12,500-square-foot organic vegetable garden and heirloom fruit orchard (cherry, pear, and apple). This is Project Sprout, the first student-initiated and student-run vegetable garden at a public high school in the United States. Last year, our first year, was a trial year in which our garden was one-third the size it is now. Our bountiful produce went primarily to local food pantries and volunteers, and we supplemented as much of the cafeteria food with our produce as possible. This year, with well-defined goals of further infiltrating our school’s lunches with organic vegetables and integrating the garden into public-school education, we are successfully conjuring up support from all walks of life and turning our dreams into reality.

Project Sprout’s student founders — Natalie Akers, Sam Levin, and Sarah Steadman — met in a flurry of mutual interest, each looking for a way to take an active part in protecting the environment. In October 2007, after much discussion and research, we met with Mr. Powell (our go-to “green” faculty member), Raina Weber (head and founder of Project Native, the local nonprofit that took Project Sprout under its wing), Bridghe McCracken (our brilliant garden planner and teacher), and boom! Out came a dynamic team of activists devoted to changing the world for the better. As this group began proving its commitment to the realization of Project Sprout, a community formed around us and the powerful idea we try to represent. Project Sprout became not simply a group of excited kids, but an entire community of people, young and old, working together to make the garden happen. Amazingly, during our trial year, we cultivated a 3,500-square-foot garden, donated over one thousand pounds of produce to a local shelter (WIC), served salads, soups, and mashed potatoes in three schools, and had dozens of kids working in the garden.

Above all, it’s the students who make this project unique. Throughout everything, the students have remained the leaders and designers of Project Sprout; we are the teachers and the activists in the garden, reaching out to the community while fundraising tirelessly to ensure a bountiful harvest. We meet throughout the year with Bridghe to learn as much as we can about the complexities of biodynamic cultivation and to plan as much of the garden as possible. We spend hours searching for the tools for upcoming projects such as a water-catchment system, a composting system, a windbreak for our orchard, the shed we need to build, and much, much more. Meanwhile, students of all ages learn from the high schoolers what it means to be empowered and to feel connected to the natural world in our daily actions.

Kids and adults alike are loving getting their hands dirty. A classmate once commented that she salivates just thinking about the salsa made at the garden. The kids from detention shovel with pride while thirty kids from the elementary school spill into the garden as part of an after-school program. “Kindergardeners” run over to examine new growth; they ask about each plant, and one even ventures to point out that worms are good because they aerate the soil. We’re impressed. Then again, they are the ones with the fascination for grizzly spiders and the unmatched zeal for obliterating Japanese beetles.

The garden breathes life into tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini, fruits, and myriad other edibles, which in turn breathe life and health into the student body, the local environment, and our community. The journey continues as we dream of our future hoop houses growing lettuce in February, of our soon-to-be blueberry patch, our nearly completed tool shed, and of our future herb garden. Project Sprout, from its plants to its youth leaders, is growing.