Cultivating youth and plants

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Students are digging on campus as part of the Garden Club, who’s partnered with Windham Area Interfaith Ministry. This is in order to teach high schoolers a lesson about giving back and it is to provide fresh vegetables to a bunch of families each week. Photo Courtesy of Shanice Rhule/Daily Campus

On Saturday, University of Connecticut students volunteered at Grow Windham Community Garden, an outdoor organization that teaches high schoolers about the power of gardening and giving back. The community garden partners with Windham Area Interfaith Ministry to provide fresh vegetables to 20 families each week.  

Hosted through UConn’s Community Outreach, members of UConn’s Alpha Phi Omega cleared tree branches, removed weeds, moved wood chips and mulched in order to restore the front of the garden.  

Supported by the Boy Scouts of America, the co-ed fraternity is nationally recognized for its community service in their communities and on their campuses. Despite the gnats that hovered over the heap of the wood chips, the group seemed to have a good time lending their efforts to help a healthy cause. 

Inside the enclosed gates of the garden, the area smelled like the produce section of a supermarket. Planting occurs throughout the year, so the garden was full of big leafy greens and herbs that will be picked this upcoming Wednesday. 

The Daily Campus spoke with Vania Galicia-Bacilio, the organization’s head farmer, where she discussed what the organization does for the youth of Windham.   

“One big thing that folks don’t realize is that a lot of youth in Windham have a lot of agriculture skills already because they have generations of family members who are farmers,” Galicia-Bacilio said. “But because our schools really don’t pay attention to that, no one ever realizes like, ‘Oh, that’s a skill they already have.’ And it kind of comes second nature to them.” 

Similar to the teens who currently volunteer at the garden, an Eastern Connecticut State University graduate began volunteering at the garden at age 16 through the Windham Youth Core. Now 23, after getting her college degree, Galicia-Bacilio decided to come back for the sheer pleasure of it. 

Along with yard work, the organization prepared for their “Open Garden” Halloween community event. As an independent organization, most of their funds are raised through fundraisers, grants and local community members.   

“I think the main thing is that [the community is] really happy that we have this space for our youth, because there aren’t many spaces here in Windham for youth to do community work or just work on themselves in general,” Galicia-Bacilio said.  

Galicia-Bacilio encourages all gardeners, regardless of their experience, to volunteer. Nevertheless, gardeners are not the only ones who should take advantage of this. 

“If someone wants to help out, but they’re not fond of gardening or anything like that, it doesn’t have to be that way,” Galicia-Bacilio said. “We also have our website, or social media, sometimes we need help with surveying things. Art, that’s one of the big things.” 

The fence of the garden is decorated with paintings and crafts made by the community. With staple graphics, like a sign that says “I love plants so much I soil myself,” the organization wants to make it clear that this place is welcoming to everyone.  

To keep up with the community garden, check out their Instagram.  

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