Ecology club’s garden thrives

The Ecology Club of Hinsdale Central has a garden in the courtyard (yes, that’s what all those green leaves in the “sandbox” are) that is in full bloom and some of its harvest has been used in the cafeteria’s food. They started the process of creating a garden last year at this time at meetings and began planting it in late May.

Co-President Josh Feldman, senior, said, “The garden project really started many months before it was actually planted. In the winter, we took a club field trip to another high school and learned a lot about school gardens. We talked to the teacher responsible for making it happen, and then went outside by their football field and saw their large garden which was very impressive.”

Feldman and his club members had visited Riverside Brookfield High School’s school garden and knew they wanted something similar. Firstly, the garden needed funding, and food services was happy to donate some seed starters called Jiffy Pots that go indoors by windows. Ms. Cherise Lopez, club sponsor, had a classroom with non-ideal conditions, and so the Jiffy Pots had difficulty growing.

Then, the club took the idea to Boosters and to a contest. Boosters gave them a grant as they won a video competition. Senior Stephanie Jamilla, the other co-president of ecology club, said, “That video was a lot of work, as we took footage during winter break, and then in a very short amount of time we had to create a script which was written by Josh and recorded by Wendy [Li], and edit the whole video which was done by me.”

It proved worthwhile to create the video, which was about the environmental effects of transportation, because the club received a 300 dollar grant from Green Community Connections. They also had to get approval from the school board to have the garden in the courtyard.

While they waited for it to warm up for planting, they painted bird houses, a few donated by club member Claire Hultquist, senior. When it was time to plant, they used pre-sprouted plants which worked better. Jamilla said, “We had buildings and grounds help us a lot with the process. First, they cut a patch of grass that was the size of our garden, and then they helped us actually assemble the bed for the plants afterwards.”

Building and grounds watered the garden mostly because students weren’t allowed access to hoses, but the club members would check on it occasionally, even in the summer. “Members do share the responsibility pretty evenly. Members of the club are enthusiastic about the garden and are willing to help,” Feldman said.

This fall, Chef Betty from the cafeteria and food services personnel was able to start harvesting the garden’s food. The garden is also open to any Central parents and teachers and has herbs like basil, sage, dill, and parsley. There is also a tomato and a pepper plant. This past week, according to Beth Kujawa in food services, Chef Betty “cleaned [the basil], made it into a pesto, and put it into alfredo that was served on the Quest for Life line that had pasta with homemade sauces of your choice.” Some tomatoes will appear in salads, and the dill will possibly appear in a cucumber salad soon.

“We are going to freeze it and not let any go to waste. We’re going to dry herbs in the oven,” Kujawa said. “When you’re cooking with herbs, frozen is the second best thing.” And in November, when fresh herbs can’t be harvested from the garden, they will have some in the freezer ready for stuffing.

Kujawa said, “[The garden]was just a trial for them, and we are very happy with the results. [Lopez] talked about trying to expand the garden to another bed, and I would be thrilled because it is pretty crowded and herbs kind of grow all over.” Kujawa brought up cucumber and parsley as possibilities.

Both club presidents seemed very passionate and excited about the thriving garden. Jamilla said, “By growing our own produce, we’re less dependent on shipments. Hence, less carbon emissions are produced. Also, we wanted ecology club to have more of a presence in the school, and we thought a garden would be a good indication that the club is present and doing work.”

Feldman said, “It is important to have a garden so that Central shows it is caring for the environment more  and making it a greater part of our lives. Not only does it itself provide some local, organic food to the cafeteria, but it also shows students at Central that home grown food is something that is doable and very beneficial.”