There's a tiny garden plot in northwest Rochester being used to teach big lessons about sustainability and climate change.

And in this case, kids are both the students and the teachers.

The garden is being cared for by the Rochester Community Initiative, a youth-led organization that focuses on advocacy and community education. The group is using the garden to provide food for the community and get people engaged, as well as provide an educational component.

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"Originally, we just thought of the community garden, but then we were like: 'how can we use it to make something bigger and impact more people,'" Yasmin Ali, a member of RCI, said about how they decided to add the educational component to the garden.

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As a result, the group developed its Eco-Education program. According to a statement from RCI, the program is meant to "develop relationships between local students and Rochester youth leaders through cultivating community gardens and educational lessons on the importance of the environment and climate preservation."

Bailee Benson takes a closer look at a bug on a plant during a session of the RCI’s Summer Eco-Education Program on Thursday, July 15, 2021, at The Village Community Garden in Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Bailee Benson takes a closer look at a bug on a plant during a session of the RCI’s Summer Eco-Education Program on Thursday, July 15, 2021, at The Village Community Garden in Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

A group of students recently was sitting on a picnic blanket and camping chairs at The Village Community Gardens. A small whiteboard was set up in front of the garden plots, as several members of RCI talked about the pillars of sustainability. They talked about ways to practice sustainability at home, such as car pooling, shopping local, taking shorter showers, and "thrifting" rather than always buying new.

"You can get really anywhere you want with a bike," RCI member Gauri Sood said about Rochester's trail system.

Ali later led the group through a maze of garden plots to find the one designated for RCI. She pointed out everything growing there: from fruits and vegetables like watermelons, tomatoes, and squash to seasonings like oregano, dill and cilantro.

"And that's just a random flower," Ali said pointing off to the side.

Yasmin Ali speaks about the groups experience planting a garden this summer during a session of the RCI’s Summer Eco-Education Program on Thursday, July 15, 2021, at The Village Community Garden in Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Yasmin Ali speaks about the groups experience planting a garden this summer during a session of the RCI’s Summer Eco-Education Program on Thursday, July 15, 2021, at The Village Community Garden in Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

Ali went on to tell everyone how coffee grounds are full of nitrogen, which is good for the soil and is a fertilizer for plants.

Another RCI member, Bailee Benson, explained how ladybugs will eat pests off garden plants. If there are not enough ladybugs already hanging out in the garden, there's a simple solution: buy a pack of live ladybugs online.

Once the garden is ready to harvest, the students plan to donate the produce to a community fridge.

For the students, the day was an opportunity to learn about the issues surrounding sustainability and to do so with other people interested and concerned about the same things.

"I think climate change can be very overwhelming -- and honestly kind of depressing -- if you're just (looking) on your phone," said student Maya Basnyat. "I think being with a group and having a healthy discussion, and not only just talking about the bad but also the steps to take for good, is very productive."

Gauri Sood, 16, speaks about the three pillars of sustainability during a session of the RCI’s Summer Eco-Education Program on Thursday, July 15, 2021, at The Village Community Garden in Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Gauri Sood, 16, speaks about the three pillars of sustainability during a session of the RCI’s Summer Eco-Education Program on Thursday, July 15, 2021, at The Village Community Garden in Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)