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Summer English Academy ESL students see the difference community gardening can make

September 6, 2012

By Melissa Trinley, Short-Term Programs Assistant

Summer English Academy (SEA) launched its inaugural program on the west coast this summer. Included in the program was an afternoon at a Greenheart Volunteer project. On the last day of the three week long ESL program students in Northern California learned about a social issue facing many communities throughout the world, homelessness, and a creative solution one community has implemented to combat it.

At the Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz, CA a group of 25 ESL students spent the afternoon volunteering in a the Community Support Agriculture (CSA) garden promoting both local and organic farming at the same time supporting various community development programs run by the garden project. The proceeds from the garden go towards supporting projects aimed to help the homeless. Examples of these projects include:

  • The Women’s Organic Flower Enterprise creates gift products using raw materials grown by trainees on the farm to provide meaningful work, providing training in job skills and build confidence in the homeless population.
  •  Connecting with Community assists trainees with job search techniques, interview role-playing, and the skills to find and obtain a job.

The CSA allows the community to support local, sustainable agriculture by purchasing a weekly harvest or they have the option to pick the food themselves. Proceeds from the CSA and its farm stand help fund the social initiatives.

For the Greenheart project the group was divided into sub groups to help in various ways such as weeding the perimeter of the garden and eliminating invasive species, tending to the asparagus bed and learning about this perennial plant and harvesting Moroccan mint to be used as potpourri and sold at the Homeless Garden store.

The volunteer coordinator explained the devastating cycle of homelessness and how the sale of their produce goes to job training programs, thus giving the students a sense of purpose. By the end of the afternoon the volunteers felt as if they had made a difference. One student referred to the project as “excellent and meaningful,” while another said it was, “helpful to others, interesting and I enjoyed the farm!”

Activity coordinator Tony Cockrell, who organized the volunteer project had this to say about its success with the international group: “What I observed was that the work brought our already close group into a tighter knit feeling of community that had been carefully fostered during the previous weeks. Food is important to all of us and the participation in it, however brief it may be, serves to create a deeper understanding and appreciation for what we eat on our plate.”

Through SEA’s Greenheart Volunteer project students not only practiced their English language skills in the real world but also learned a sustainable solution to one of the world’s most pressing social issues.

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