Variety is the Spice of Life. Also, Peppers.
For Olivia and Danielle, both 17, boredom was the best motivator.
As the school year came to an end, the two sisters were looking to stay busy over the summer and be around good people. Olivia soon found Gardening the Community (GTC), a program in Mason Square that trains young people to grow their own vegetables, work together, and live well. Volunteers also develop business and leadership skills in helping to manage GTC’s thriving farmer’s market.
In a short time, Danielle (who has since become a practicing pescetarian) joined her sister, and the two began discovering the great value of garden-fresh produce, healthy eating, and expanding their community.
“I love sweets,” admits Olivia. “And I used to eat a lot of processed foods, but now that I’ve learned what’s in processed foods, I lean more toward vegetables in my diet.”
Danielle’s process of discovery included overcoming understandable prejudices regarding truly fresh vegetables. “Five years ago, I never would have taken a pepper off a plant and eaten it. There must be dirt and bugs on there — gross!” However, mostly out of curiosity, she began bringing home the vegetables that she grew and using them as ingredients in her recipes.
She now proudly rattles off the long list of vegetables she has tried, from kale to eggplant, and acknowledges the physical effect that this change has had on her. “I definitely have more energy now. Even if I can’t taste the vegetables in a meal, or if another ingredient overpowers them, I know I’m getting nutrients.”
For both girls, their experience at GTC has gone beyond raising their tolerance to new foods; they have discovered the value in being open to change in a variety of ways. “It started with changing my diet,” said Danielle. “But then I noticed that it’s good to being open to new people and new ways of doing things. I’m more willing to talk in front of people and feel more confident overall.”
Olivia agrees that their experiences at GTC have had benefits well beyond the dinner table. “I’m not just open to new things with diet, but with meeting new people. At our age, this is when you start to learn about new cultures and new lifestyles. And so many of the people that we meet at GTC are different than us,” she explains. “You learn to be open to other people’s circumstances and have empathy.”
Contact Gardening the Community for youth leadership opportunities or find out about other gardening activities in Springfield.