Growing the Mind

By on June 21, 2017

The mission of Rochester Roots (ROOTS) is to empower citizens and communities, starting with youth, to create agency for their own sustainable wellbeing.

Lakeshore Elementary School principal James Palermo worked with Rochester Roots while teaching in the City of Rochester School District. “I felt that Rochester Roots was the right program for Greece. Greece values hard work. We want our kids to know how to put in the hard work, to roll up their sleeves and the result is that students are strengthened academically, socially and physically. This program fits perfectly in this town, and is a program that our community can really rally around,” Palermo says.

Rochester Roots was awarded a $375,000 Community Food Projects Competitive Grant through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture/USDA to support the development of two learning gardens in the Rochester area from 2016-2018. Lakeshore Elementary School is receiving $75,000 and $300,000 is allocated for the Montessori Academy Sustainability Education and Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratories in the Rochester City School District. The grant award is matched by $375,000 of in-kind teacher time and cash from public, private and corporate donations.

The project at Lakeshore Elementary School is their Community Garden. A school-wide and community-wide project. The $75,000 will be used over a period of three years.

Last fall students and their families began the first year of gardening work. That includes building the infrastructure of raised beds, preparing the soil, digging the holes, and setting up the fences and posts. Year two work included deciding what to plant and where, and planting the heirloom vegetable, herbs, fruit and flower seeds. Year three will include expanding the garden with additional raised beds, fruit trees and a shade garden. There is also a community group funding a solar panel lighthouse and an Eagle Scout building project to be completed in year three.

Over the school year the garden work is done every Wednesday. During the summer months work on the garden will continue on Wednesdays with Rochester Roots, community organizations and churches helping with the maintenance of the garden. Next fall the students will realize the results of their work when they harvest seeds for next year’s garden, create food from what they have grown and prepare medicines and lip balm from their plantings.

Principal Palermo sees great purpose to a community garden. He says, “This program is more than just building a garden. The purpose is to teach students about sustainability. They can use the concepts that they have learned and apply them to every aspect of building a strong community.” Students learn about the social system of soil, what plants work best when growing next to each other and how all aspects of the garden are dependent on each other for success. These same concepts are true for the social systems in the classroom. Students learn about relationship building, character development and how to work together in teams. “The impact on students goes far beyond academic learning. The kids really learn how to work together. As a result they get involved in family gardens at home and they know how to work together as a team. This builds family relationships and a shared experience way beyond just spending time with family.”

Palermo also says working in the community garden greatly benefits students that learn by doing. “You can read from a manual how to do something. For many students unless they do it themselves they don’t really know how something is done. Working with plants and the soil, students develop an extended vocabulary, they are reading at a higher level, and they learn from doing, just by putting a shovel in their hands. Students are realizing their strengths. You would be surprised how much information a student can share about a zucchini plant. It is unbelievable the amount of information you can get out of them from their gardening experiences,” he says.

Rochester Roots (ROOTS) is a non-profit organization focused on Sustainability Education and Entrepreneurship, which it offers within twenty-six Sustainability Laboratories.

Rochester Roots Executive Director Jan McDonald says their group works with the students indoor in the classrooms as well outside in the garden. “We work with students in the classroom on sustainability education. Students create a model system by looking at their decisions through seven community wellbeing outcomes and how the decisions they make will impact the sociological, ecological and technological systems of what they plant over the course of 15 years,” McDonald says.

For more information on Rochester Roots visit