Four years ago, Jennifer Roach ’14 co-founded Summer of Solutions Hartford, a food justice and youth leadership development program in Connecticut’s capital, just up the road from Middletown. Summer of Solutions was based in Frog Hollow, a low-income Hartford neighborhood, and affiliated with a national youth-led nonprofit called Grand Aspirations. Since 2010, Summer of Solutions has grown to 7 garden sites across Hartford, continuously working to “increase access to healthy food and community green spaces in Hartford by empowering young people as innovators in the food justice movement and providing them tools and opportunities to create solutions to food inequality in the city.”
This month, Jennifer and Summer of Solutions were awarded a $10,000 grant from the Kathryn W. Davis Projects for Peace program. The Projects for Peace grant will allow Summer of Solutions to expand its 9-week summer program to a 7-month internship for youth interested in urban agriculture.
Now in the its eighth year, Projects for Peace is “an invitation to undergraduates at the American colleges in the Davis United World College Scholars Program to design grassroots projects that they will implement during the summer. The objective is to encourage and support today’s motivated youth to create and try out their own ideas for building peace.” The Davis grant has been awarded to one or more Wesleyan students each year since 2007, including Kennedy Odede ’12 and Jessica Posner Odede ’09 in 2009 to build what would later become Shining Hope for Communities and the Kibera School for Girls.
By funding the summer component of the Summer of Solutions internship, Davis will enable Roach and her team to amplify their impact in Hartford. Twelve garden interns will work alongside community members, maintain seven gardens, teach gardening and cooking classes, and come together weekly for a workshop series on food justice, sustainability, and community resilience. In addition, they will partner with Capital Workforce Partners, a youth employment initiative in Hartford, to run a 5-week Urban Farming 101 program for 10 high school students in July.
Roach explains that “by transforming abandoned urban land into valuable community resources, young people can work together to…cultivate safe, green spaces in our community.” Training interns in leadership skills creates a ripple effect through the community, and building gardens in abandoned lots transforms the character of the street. “Before the Zion Street Community Garden was built in 2011, those lots were home to 6-foot tall weeds, garbage, and hiding places for illicit activities. Now, we have 120 raised beds where our neighbors are growing healthy food, teaching their children how to garden, and building relationships in their neighborhood. The Hartford Police told us that crime rates decreased on our road after we built the garden. The garden has ~70 members and hosts events for an additional ~30 neighbors in Frog Hollow. By opening up these vacant lots to the community, we built a welcoming space that has a vibrant presence in the neighborhood and discourages local crime. Our garden serves not only as a food source, but as a community gathering place, and green space for children. That public community presence discourages crime in the neighborhood.”
Four of the Summer of Solutions garden sites are located at elementary schools across Hartford. These use previously empty land to create natural educational spaces. Roach’s team works with 350 students through summer school activities, and they expect to reach at least 600 students as they expand science programming through the school year. “The students have a hand in every aspect of the garden, from planting to cooking the harvest. These classes provide a peaceful learning setting as an alternative to their daily activities. 41% of children in Hartford and 57% of the children in Frog Hollow live below the poverty level and suffer many barriers to healthy food. By integrating gardening into their school curriculum, we are creating a safe space for them to learn and a healthy food source.”
With this Davis Projects for Peace grant, Summer of Solutions will be able to expand to new schools each year, soon engaging thousands of students in urban agriculture.
Since its founding, participants from Summer of Solutions have gone on to start sustainability projects in their own schools, find jobs working in food and sustainability in Hartford, and return to the program as leaders for subsequent summers. It has changed the way they understand their food system. According to one former participant, “Summer of Solutions has taught me the importance of the environment and importance of organic food and eating healthy.”
Roach writes, “We are absolutely delighted to learn that we have the support of the Davis Projects for Peace Summer 2014 Grant to support the fourth year of Summer of Solutions Hartford. This award will allow us to expand our programming and add a new 7-month intensive urban agriculture internship for 12 local youth. We are so thankful for the support of the Davis Projects for Peace and the Davis United World College Scholars Program in expanding our program and to Wesleyan’s Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship for supporting us in the application process–and always.”
The new 7-month internship program with Summer of Solutions Hartford was also selected as a finalist for a 2014 Patricelli Center Seed Grant, which funds the launch or early-stage growth of a Wesleyan-connected project or venture, but Jennifer Roach withdrew from the competition when news of the Davis Prize arrived. In order to maximize support of student-led initiatives, Patricelli Center policies stipulate that no student may receive both.
To learn about the grants administered by the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship and to read about Wesleyan students who have received Davis Projects for Peace grants in the past, visit www.wesleyan.edu/patricelli/grants/index.html.