STRIVE Plants Garden at Slade Middle School

By Shaunna Cullen

YWCA New Britain's STRIVE after school program for middle school girls recently had the opportunity to work with New Britain ROOTS to build a garden at Slade Middle School.

Over the past four years, the YWCA and ROOTS have been partners with the school district serving as community agencies for the Summer Enrichment Experience (SEE) program.  When a grant opportunity to support partnership programming with the focus of tackling food insecurities came up, it was the perfect opportunity for YWCA, ROOTS, and the school district to partner and apply for this project.

New Britain ROOTS, a non-profit organization that provides education programs for elementary and high school students on food justice, sustainable farming, and empowered eating practices, has established community gardens and two greenhouses at various schools in New Britain.  "There are no gardens in any of the middle schools and instead of recruiting and managing a whole program ourselves, STRIVE decided to collaborate. Adding a gardening component to the program allows our participants to gain new skill sets. The girls are able to design, build, and maintain 12 garden beds with the support and guidance from the experts of the ROOTS staff. The girls will also learn how to cook with the food that they grow," said Mallory Deprey, STRIVE's program coordinator.

ROOTS helped with the practical aspects of the garden such as how to build a raised bed, what kind of soil to use, and how to plant and care for the garden. The garden was built from the ground up, with the girls first assembling the raised beds with lumber donated from Lowe's. With guidance and supervision from ROOTS, the girls were able to try their hand at a power drill to make holes for the screws.

"Building these gardens promotes teamwork and self-confidence in our girls. It also provides an opportunity for the after-school programs at Slade to have fresh produce and learn more about agriculture. We are grateful New Britain ROOTS has partnered with us on this project and we look forward to working together when the school year begins," said Mallory Deprey.

Soil donated by Harvest New England, and mulch donated by Cedar Mountain Stone & Mulch, was shoveled into wheelbarrows and dumped into the raised bed structures by volunteers from the Westfarms Mall Microsoft store. The girls took turns evening out soil in the beds while chatting with the Microsoft employees to learn more about what kinds of careers are available to them in technology.

“Our [Microsoft] team often signs up for community events. This is my first community event while being with the company for a few months. We’re having a good time!” said Yousuf Mian, Product Adviser.

The upkeep of the garden will be left to STRIVE to care for for the rest of the season. Any produce grown in the garden will be picked and distributed to the various after school programs at Slade Middle School.

Thank you to American Savings Foundation, Annie's Homegrown, and Foodshare for making this project possible!