Get the Dirt on Katie, Our School Gardens VISTA!

From the Worcester Regional Environmental Council …

For those of you that I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Katie Rozenas and I am serving my second year as the [the Regional Environmental Council’s] School Gardens AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America).

My job is to provide technical garden support and educational resources to 27 school and educational gardens throughout the city of Worcester.

People often ask me why I chose to become an AmeriCorps VISTA. The answer is simple. After graduation, I wanted to be an advocate for food justice and work with an organization whose mission is very close to my heart.

Farming is an integral part of my family heritage and there is no doubt that I have farming blood running through my veins. Growing up, I had the privilege of going to my grandparent’s farm in Oxford to get fresh fruits and vegetables directly from the farmers that grew them. I eventually worked with my grandmother for over 5 years at the Worcester and Holden farmers’ markets.

Between working at the farmers’ market and getting funny looks from my college classmates for eating raw green beans, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers in class, I soon realized that many people, especially young people were unaware of where their food comes from, and the importance of eating fresh locally grown food.

Being part of the “REC Food Justice League,” (as we affectionately call ourselves) has been a unique and rewarding experience which has fueled my optimism for future generations.

It has been an honor to have the unique opportunity to teach garden-based educational activities to students ranging from pre-school to 12th grade. Over 2,400 students and 240  teachers have taken advantage of their school garden and the resources offered through our network this year. 
This past April at Tatnuck Magnet Elementary School, I and three volunteers led a school-wide educational activity called I Can Eat a Whole Plant. The activity highlighted the various plant parts that we eat. To begin, each student shared what their favorite vegetable was. Some of the students responded by saying, “I’m allergic to all vegetables,” “I heard that vegetables are bad for you,” and “I don’t like any vegetables, they are gross.”

I asked every student to try a bite of a vegetable sample as part of our activity, thinking that some might spit it out but hoping for the best. I was shocked but overjoyed when every single student in the school sampled all the vegetables. Many even asked for seconds!

During the spring when I feel the most overwhelmed by all of the work that I have to do, I remember Margaret Mead’s quote: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

I immediately feel empowered, and reassured that the work we are doing is important and meaningful to thousands of students throughout the city.

I love coordinating the School Gardens Network and the experiences I’ve had working at the REC have been invaluable and truly memorable. I am thrilled to work with an amazing and dedicated Food Justice Staff, devoted volunteers, thankful teachers, and inspiring youth.

Katie Rozenas is REC’s School Gardens Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA