By Sarah Rosenblum
Can you imagine growing the very food that makes your evening meal? How would you feel knowing the exact process of how those veggies and fruits on your plate came from your garden? Well, for some kids in the Schenectady area, growing food and organic goods is a part of their everyday lives, thanks to the program called Roots and Wisdom.
Roots and Wisdom is a youth agriculture and community service program that was founded in 2005 in Schenectady and financed by Cornell Cooperative. The organization strives to bring together youth from both suburban and rural Schenectady. Through growing over 140 varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers, students get down and dirty with the bounty of Earth. The organic vegetables they grow are donated and sold within the county, developing a direct connection between the students and the Schenectady community. Some regular recipients of the organic goods are City Mission and the Schenectady Inner For Panty. In addition, Roots and Wisdom donated food relief to help out after the recent flood in the Stockade.
Students between the ages of 14 to 18 can apply to participate in the program, which is a yearlong commitment. The selected students are paid for their work through the Schenectady job-training agency.
Debbie Forester, one of the co-founders of the organization says, “Our goal is to get as much diversity amongst the youth in the program. We want diversity in gender, geography, race, religion and extra-curricular interests. We want kids who are interested in sports, drama, music and students who are economically and socially diverse.” Roots and Wisdom wants to reconnect students with the food that they eat, reminding them that good health starts with good food. That is why Roots and Wisdom also welcomes volunteers of all ages and backgrounds.
“We have had at least 100 people come and volunteer this year. Some are regulars, and some just come once as part of a group” says Forester. Some of these volunteers have been Union students in the past.
Roots and Wisdom additionally sells their food through a community supportive agriculture program. People can pay to select the food that they want to be harvested, and then they can come pick the food that was grown for them. They additionally have a farm stand that sells produce from one of their garden sites, located on Fair Avenue. The other gardens are also located in Schenectady, one at Vale Cemetery and another educational garden at Central Park.
Roots and Wisdom, unlike most farmers, don’t have an off-season. They have an unheated greenhouse in central park where they grow produce in the winter, keeping them busy all year round. The next project, according to Forester, is creating value added products through drying herbs and beans and then creating soup mixes.
Agriculture is no longer isolated and apart from society; the mystery behind how dinner is made is being unraveled for these students.
Programs such as Roots and Wisdom not only teach teenagers about food production and the benefits of organic produce, but they also learn how to be a strong leaders as they see how their actions can directly give back to the local community. It is all about lessons from growing Earth’s bounty and remembering that all of us, no matter where we go in life, always return back to the Earth and depend on it for our next meal.