Yesterday Anne, Joyce and I took a trip down into Utica to meet with Debra Richardson of the Resource Center for Independent Living (RCIL). Walking into her backyard was like walking into Eden. She is growing so much food, preserves her own meats and cans excess vegetables and fruits. After sitting down, each with a glass of homemade grape juice, Debra began talking about her life and the work she does in Utica. Debra's life has been far from easy, but has given her so many valuable experiences - from waitressing to getting a degree in videography to protesting nuclear testing in Nevada to opening her own restaurant in upstate New York and finally working for the community in Utica.
At the end of our meeting, the four of us had a plan of action for the summer:
1. Assess the needs at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary school
2. Research the effects of lead poisoning on the community
3. Plot a garden on site
4. Organize a garden curriculum that can be integrated into all areas of study from kindergarten through fifth grade
5. Get all the teachers on board
6. Apply for lots of grants to get $$$$$$
All of those may seem to fit except for step 2, researching lead poisoning. However, Utica is the 2nd worst city in the United States to live in for lead poisoning. After meeting with the principal at MLK, it became even more apparent that a community garden can help these kids by providing food that is not contaminated by lead dust. Principal DeSalvo said that 10 kids this year have been diagnosed with lead poisoning - and those are just the confirmed cases. Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities in children. However, because of the large immigrant community in Utica, about 7 different languages are spoken in each classroom. Therefore, it becomes difficult to get a child, his/her parent, a translator and a doctor in a room at the same time to get a diagnosis.
I am really excited to nerd out this summer and help the local community feel empowered through this garden. Things are starting to come together!