by Eileen Weber
Last May, I wrote an article about the Westport Green Village Initiative (GVI) that was making headway by spreading their sustainable word to other towns like Ridgefield and Fairfield. With grassroots movements in community gardens, recycling, energy and water conservation and a very green message, their hope was to grow an idea from the ground up one town at a time.
That concept started with one Westport businessman, Dan Levinson. He has been the catalyst for the GVIs in the area. Claire Carlson in Ridgefield shared his vision and she has taken that town by storm. With a film series and lectures at the town library and the Aldrich Museum as well as organic gardens in the school system, she has single-handedly started a green movement in that section of Fairfield County.
The hope was that Fairfield would follow in Ridgefield’s footsteps. But unfortunately, it never did. A town that has organic gardens in almost every school in the district couldn’t seem to get it together to create their own GVI system. When Levinson questioned this, he was told the politics in the town were too stiff. He was left with the strong impression that he should look elsewhere.
His disappointment with Fairfield didn’t discourage him from trying in neighboring Bridgeport. With the help of Karen Sussman, a Fairfield resident and GVI member, Bridgeport has kicked off the school garden program. They hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
“With Bridgeport,” Levinson said, “they have the attitude, ‘Whatever you got, we’ll take it. Just put it out back!’” Sussman agreed. She said that she and Levinson approached the Bridgeport school system with a presentation in December. It was enthusiastically received with 15 principals signing up for the program immediately.
Since then, they have hit the ground running. This fall, the group helped the students at Park City Magnet School put in their first plantings for a garden. “These are kids that don’t know you can grow a tomato in your backyard,” said Sussman.
Since then, Sussman has partnered with organizations like Builders Beyond Borders in Norwalk to help construct other projects. Some include a community garden at the Marina Village housing complex and a Cook and Grow program with the Bridgeport Public Library.
In the schools, the main goal is to get a garden to be a core part of every curriculum. With 32 schools in the district, it’s a big mountain to climb.
“Many children are not exposed to this,” said Maura O’Malley, Director of Food and Nutrition Services for the Bridgeport school system. “The first time they’ve ever seen something like this. The teachers are thinking outside the box to give kids something they don’t see at home.”
O’Malley talked about how the kids at Park City Magnet School had a “lettuce afternoon” this past fall. They got to make salads from the garden and make their own dressings to go with it. She said the kids loved it.
So this Tuesday, January 25th, O’Malley said there is a meeting planned to start a garden program in at least 13 other schools this spring. She hopes to see this kind of program really take off.
Levinson said that gardens are just the beginning. There are so many other green issues to tackle, but food brings people together. Westport, Ridgefield, and now Bridgeport are thriving GVIs. He now has his sights set on Darien and Weston.
Think you’d like your town to be more green? Levinson said he would be happy to see as many projects get going as possible. For more information, visit the web site or call 203-227-5320.
Image courtesy of Park City Magnet School.