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Gardens a win/win/win for local schools, nonprofit, Rotary – podcast

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

“To me this is the type of feel good program that we love to have.”

So sayeth Stuart Wood, executive director of Sustainable Claremont, on the occasion of the Wednesday installation of a raised bed garden at Sumner Danbury Elementary School.

The nonprofit teamed up with Claremont Sunrise Rotary for the event, which, as Wood said, ticks most every box on the altruistic, smile-inducing local news story checklist.

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Sustainable Claremont’s raised bed program began right after the pandemic hit in March 2020, when so many people were looking to start home gardens.

The nonprofit’s team recognized the niche it might fill, and with some expert home gardeners on staff — including one who was growing food for about 20 area families — an idea was hatched.

The plan was to refocus a portion of Sustainable Claremont’s considerable and longstanding efforts to plant trees in the area, and use some of that brain and brawn to build, install, and plant raised bed containers for local residents. It was a win/win idea: folks had clean, fresh food and saved money, and Sustainable Claremont raised funds for its mission.

But the simple idea took time to implement. After about a year of planning and seeking funds, the nonprofit installed its first raised bed at a private home.

“And it took off from there,” Wood said. “We’ve done raised bed build and installs for folks that just want one; we did a front yard where we did 14. We covered the whole front yard with raised beds.”

With the new modest fundraising venture established, Sustainable Claremont then began looking for ways to expand it to give back to the community, much like its longtime tree planting programs.

Enter Andy Dale, a member of Sustainable Claremont’s finance committee and of Claremont Sunrise Rotary, who told Wood about the club’s new focus area on environmental projects, and asked if the nonprofit had any shovel-ready programs that might be a good fit.

“As part of Rotary International’s new focus on the climate, Cindy Rainey, our current president, asked me to find a project that might fit,” Dale said. “I knew where to turn.”

“And we have a lot of tree grants,” Wood said, “so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try to get some funding to do raised beds.”

Area schools, including Sycamore and Sumner Danbury Elementary, had approached Sustainable Claremont to inquire about its raised beds. After waiting for grant funding to come in, and for an unrelated construction project to be completed, the first raised bed, a pollinator garden, was installed at Sycamore a few weeks back.

“And so, once word got out about what we were doing at Sycamore, we were contacted by a number of other principals in Claremont and beyond, in other communities, who also wanted raised beds for native gardens, vege gardens, a flower garden,” Wood said.

This week it was Sumner Danbury’s turn, with two new raised vegetable garden beds installed Wednesday.

“They look really nice, which is cool,” Wood said. “The soil that we use for them comes from our community compost site, which is like another cool element; we’re using locally made soil, raising funds from this local community organization to put those in for a local school that can use them.”

“So it’s all this sort of circular process that we’re pretty excited about.”

Wood, 39, has led Sustainable Claremont since 2019. The La Verne resident studied political philosophy and American politics, with a focus on climate change misinformation, at Claremont Graduate University, earning his Ph.D. in 2014. His enthusiasm for environmental action and altruism clearly shone through during our brief conversation on Tuesday.

“The big takeaway for me is this to me feels like the perfect example of the community coming together through Sunrise Rotary, and raising funds to pay a local organization like Sustainable Claremont to install at a local school,” Wood said. “To me it’s like the greatest version of community support that you can get. And these gardens are going to be serving these kids for like, decades.”

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