Pitzer Students Plan Hartford Garden Project for Summer 2011

Ambitious Pitzer students Pablo Baeza ‘13 and Jennifer Roach ‘14 intend to start up a community gardening program in the impoverished inner-city of Hartford, Connecticut this summer. Hartford inhabitants have seen most supermarkets abandon the downtown area for the more prosperous suburbs in the past ten years, leading to a lack of food sellers in the city. In addition, large agri-corporations reign in the surrounding areas where local family farms once thrived, cutting down on the availability of fresh produce.

These changes have forced a number of Hartford citizens to depend on 7-11 and other fast food chains, leading to malnutrition and health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular conditions. Baeza and Roach hope to help stabilize the Hartford economy and improve local access to fresh fruit by creating the community garden, which they hope will create jobs, promote sustainability through local farming, and improve community cohesion.

Their project, called “Summer of Solutions: Hartford,” is one of 15 similar projects around the country and is a branch of the larger nonprofit organization Grand Aspirations. Their plan is to create an urban community garden that would be operated by both out-of-state and local youth volunteers, supported by working stipends.

A few dozen out-of-state volunteers will be brought in to help get the project on its feet. During their stay, they will live in a rented residence nearby. According to Baeza and Roach, maintenance of the garden will provide stable job opportunities for Hartford youth, who might otherwise be spending their summers flipping burgers, unemployed, or getting into drug habits.

“Instead of working at McDonalds, they would work with us for the summer,” said Roach. “That is mostly why we are fund-raising—so that we can pay stipends so we can get low income youth to volunteer and so they get [community organizing] experience and leadership training.”

Other benefits from the garden would include much needed fresh vegetables for the community, exercise, and a connection to the natural world for Hartford residents.

However, Baeza and Roach are faced with two challenges: funds and their locale. They are currently fighting an uphill battle to raise money to pay for stipends and rent for youth volunteers at the garden. Methods they have used include applying for grants, selling desserts, asking for donations from family friends via Facebook, begging for allocations of 5C club budgets, and peddling arts and crafts. They have been awarded grant money from Pepsi, and their bake sales have yielded more money than expected.

According to Baeza and Roach, there is still a lot of work to be done in order to reach their $20,000 goal.

The biggest challenge they have faced is raising awareness among Hartford high school students about the garden project.

“We are missing the inclusion of the people we are planning to affect,” Roach said. “We are not in [Hartford]. We can’t host meetings at our house.”

Both students have been in contact with friends in Connecticut, trying to spread the word about the project. Still, they fear that volunteer turnout will be minimal if the word is not spread soon.

Baeza and Roach added that if the project is not able to get on its feet this summer, they hope to at least lay the foundations on which to grow in future.

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