Environmental Club Prepares for Envirothon
Jad Bendarkawi and Hannah Wylie for the Veritas
The RHS Environmental Club is once again participating in the annual Massachusetts Envirothon in late May. The Massachusetts Envirothon is a statewide competition where high school students compete in hands-on environmental explorations, and also present research they have performed throughout the school year on a current issue topic. About the upcoming Envirothon, RHS junior Tyler Gambon says, “I enjoy the competition day as I like to talk to other students that have been researching the same topic and I can share what I have learned as well.”
The students have worked extensively to research this year’s topic, Healthy Abundant Affordable Food, and have focused on two main issues: food waste and food insecurity. They have talked to and worked with members of the community to gain an understanding of these issues and have begun to take action.
The group of students, Michelle Ramoska, Morgan Wahlstrom, Hannah Wyllie, Lizzie McGaffigan, Jad Bendarkawi, Tyler Gambon, Zach Webb, Matt Bruzzese, Caroline Elie, and Oliver Reera, have gathered data from various members in their community concerning the issues of food waste and food insecurity. They spoke with Rockland High school resource officer, Frea Leahy, who provided useful insight on the topic of food insecurity in Rockland.
The group discovered that at Rockland High School approximately 50% of the student population is on free/reduced lunch, which indicates a high percentage of food insecurity in the town. Additionally, Ms. Leahy brought to light the organization, Shane Gives Thanks, which provides free meals for children to take home for the weekend. The organization works with administration at Jefferson Elementary School, one of three elementary schools in Rockland.
In addition, Ms. Leahy told the group about resources outside school such as St. Vincent de Paul, run through Holy Family Church that provides families with food in emergency situations, along with the Rockland Food Pantry which provides food to families in need one day a week. Gambon summed up the group’s reaction to the issue. “Talking to Ms. Leahy gave me so much insight. I never realized how much of an impact food insecurity had on us here in Rockland.”
The group also reached out to Adele Leonard, Director of Food Services for Rockland Public Schools, who is knowledgeable about food waste, and she shared her experiences owning a small scale farm. Ms. Leonard believes that food waste, from the production side, is not a great issue in our schools. She said, “Most of the food that is prepared is bought and hopefully eaten. When food is not prepared or used, we try our best to compost, if possible.”
On her small farm, she said that she grows a small variety of plants, and when she has a surplus she sells them at a farmers’ market. Recently, she has found that farmers’ markets are charging for farmers to sell their goods, which is discouraging for small scale farmers such as Ms. Leonard.
Lastly, the group reached out to Norwell Farms, a small farm that recently made the transition from a commercial farm to a community based and educational one. The farm co-chair, Mari Creatini Bell, discussed the sustainable agricultural methods that the farm uses such as, low/no till agriculture, cover crops, organic fertilizers, mulching, as well as close monitoring and testing of the soil to ensure its health. Bell said they have used this information in their community action, and continue to plan more ways to foster these ideas in their community.
For their community outreach, the team has focused especially on educating and informing the community about the prevalence of food waste and food insecurity on both local and national levels. Through their podcast, The Green Tea, produced with the cooperation of WRPS radio, the team has been able to communicate to locals about ways they can remediate the issue on an individual level and how everyone has a role to play in the grand scheme of resolving food insecurity.
By discussing topics related to food waste and insecurity and relating back to the local community, citizens of Rockland are not only more informed, but are also more apt to participate in efforts to solve the issue as it is affecting their own town. Jad Bendarkawi says, “I love working on the podcast; I feel like I am more deeply involved in the topic.”
If you have not had a chance to listen you can find the podcast at http://bit.ly/greenteastitcher.
Also, the team manages RHS compost in the hopes of creating a viable resource for the school’s garden. In the near future, the team plans on extending their focus on education into the middle school as well as volunteering at local farms to fully immerse themselves in the process of agriculture and food distribution.