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Common Ground
A diverse community grows in New Haven.
By Rachel Laskow

There aren't many community gardens in the United States where you can find an immigrant from Ecuador, the child of someone who was in the Holocaust, and a person who knows how to grow Swedish vegetables. But in New Haven, Connecticut, diverse groups of people work together every day.

And they all have something in common: "They all like tomatoes. This is an exchange you can't get from a textbook. They learn a little Spanish, you learn a little English, maybe a little Swahili," New Haven resident Leonard Smart told Scholastic News Online.

More than 100 community gardens are located throughout New Haven, a diverse city. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, New Haven's population is 43 percent white, 37 percent black, and 4 percent Asian. Residents of Hispanic or Latino origin make up 21 percent of the population.

The community gardens provide a calm, beautiful place for New Haven residents, as well as a place to grow fruit, vegetables, and other plants.

"The city is so diverse and the neighborhood is so diverse. You learn about different cultures just by what people grow and how they use it to cook," Brauna Gorin told Scholastic News Online.

The gardens also provide a sense of belonging for community members, great business networking opportunities, and a place to make friends.

"It has a great effect on the community. It's amazing what a few seeds and some flowers can do," Smart said.

Outside the Classroom

Community gardens aren't the only place in New Haven where food is produced. At Common Grounds High School, six to 10 tons of produce grow in a garden each year. The school is part of the New Haven Ecology Project (NHEP) and teaches students about ecology in a hands-on setting. Students raise plants and animals, as well as learn all about the environment. Some of the food produced is even carried in local restaurants and stores.

"It helps teach students that their skills are valuable to people beyond the school," Oliver Barton, the school's director, told Scholastic News Online.

According to Betsy Sneath, associate director of NHEP, some students had never been on a hike in the woods before coming to the school. Others had only seen eggs in cartons in the store and said, "I don't eat eggs that come from chickens."

"Our programs and school introduce children to a natural environment.... We show an urban audience that outside is something they can enjoy," Sneath told Scholastic News Online.

One student who has learned a great deal since becoming a student at Common Grounds High School is 17-year-old Malcolm Brooks. During the school year and in the summer program run by the NHEP, he's had the chance to raise animals, grow vegetables, and even cook and eat some of the food.

"You experience stuff that you wouldn't other places," he told Scholastic News Online.