Up on the roof: Rooftop Garden ‘enviro-mentors’ create more than lemonade
By Reia Li | Special to the Courier
More than a dozen teens gathered among the native plants and grasses on top of a Pomona College dorm last week to pick lemons, make lemonade, and learn about healthy eating with their Rooftop Garden “enviro-mentors.”
At Rooftop Garden’s weekly club meetings on Sontag Hall, Claremont Colleges students work with high schoolers to garden, harvest produce and learn about broader food and environmental concerns, according to Lena Abed, a Pomona College student and co-coordinator of the club.
“Rooftop Garden’s mission is to connect students’ work in our garden to issues like industrial food systems, food deserts and labor struggles,” Abed said.
Abed described past events that Rooftop Garden has hosted, such as a tea-making workshop with a Pitzer College professor, a native plant re-landscaping of the Benton Museum of Art, and a screening of a film about Indigenous food sovereignty efforts.
Maria Curiel, a sophomore at Upland High School who has been attending Rooftop Garden meetings for several months, said she enjoys harvesting and cooking food.
“[We] also share cultures,” Curiel said. “Like, we had to do a food plate one time. We had to make healthy foods from our culture, so each person’s plate was completely different.”
Curiel and the other teens at last week’s event attend high schools in Claremont, Pomona, Upland and La Verne. They are part of Teen Green, a youth-led environmental group run by the Claremont-based nonprofit Uncommon Good.
Teen Green is a program open to students who are a part of Uncommon Good’s Connect to College mentoring program, which provides low income students in fourth through twelfth grades with tutoring, mentoring and college preparation.
Melanie Nicolas, a sophomore at Bonita High in La Verne, said Teen Green and Rooftop Garden provide her with community service hours that she hopes will help her get accepted into more colleges.
“I feel like that’s gonna be good for me, good for my family too, [and will] make my parents proud too,” she said.
Rooftop Garden receives funding and support from Pomona College’s Draper Center for Community Partnerships as well as Uncommon Good, Abed said.
Rooftop Garden’s partnership with Teen Green dates to 2010, when a Claremont Colleges student founded the club, according to Corbin Baxter, an urban farming specialist at Uncommon Good who attended last week’s event.
Baxter said the collaboration is meant to introduce high school students to the importance of environmental stewardship while also providing them with college mentors.
“I think the biggest part of this collaboration is mentorship,” Baxter said. “That’s why we’re here [at] Rooftop Garden — it gives the students a feel of what it’s like to be in a college atmosphere.”
From the perspective of the college students, the chance to connect with younger students from the surrounding community is also one of the most rewarding parts of the club.
“Connecting with people who have similar interests…and just connecting with the local Claremont community, I think that’s been my favorite part, [and] the community it brings,” Abed said.
The student leaders planned last week’s activities after realizing that there were still lemons remaining on the two trees on the roof of Sontag Hall. Uncommon Good also contributed a bag of lemons.
After the teens harvested the lemons, Daniella Hernandez, a Pomona College student and co-coordinator of the club, showed participants how to roll the fruits on the table to loosen the juices in preparation for making lemonade.
As the students and enviro-mentors sipped their freshly squeezed beverages, Hernandez and Abed gave a presentation about food groups, nutrient types and how to add different foods to a meal for a balanced diet.
The teens then competed in teams to work on a short quiz about what they’d learned. Nicolas was on the winning team. When asked about her thoughts on the day, she responded, “I really liked it, because I won something.”
Nicolas continued on a more serious note: “I like when we plant or when we just hang out and talk. I just like to listen, you know, to a lot of stuff that they say. I just find it interesting. And then you come like, right after school, so it helps you get your mind off of work and other stuff.”
Reia Li is a junior at Pomona College, where she writes for The Student Life. She hopes to pursue a career in journalism after graduation.