Roving Cyclists Help Fair Haven Grow

Jacob Cohn PhotoAt previous stops on a cycling crusade across New England, Long Island native Tara Escudero was warned against spending time in New Haven. Some of the warnings were given in “ageist and sexist” terms, she said. But now that she has pedaled here, she has been surprised and pleased by the amount of green activity in New Haven and the city’s strong bike culture.

“There’s a lot going on in New Haven,” said Escudero, a recent graduate of the State University of New York at Fredonia. “I’m really glad we’re here.”

Escudero and four other students and recent graduates are in New Haven this week as part of the New England Climate Summer, an internship program run by the Better Future Project, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit supporting an end to the burning of fossil fuels. Traveling by bike in small teams, student interns visit communities and work with local groups supporting sustainability and energy solutions.

The Rhode Island and Connecticut unit, one of six teams totaling 31 students, was at the Clinton Avenue School in Fair Haven Thursday morning working on a garden-building project sponsored by Grow New Haven, one of many groups the students have worked with during their travels.

So far the team has logged over 900 miles since the program started on June 5, according to Hamilton College junior Ellie Fausold. The program began with training sessions in Wilmot, N.H., and Lowell, Mass., before dispersing. Before arriving in New Haven, the Rhode Island and Connecticut students spent time in Providence, Hartford, Bridgeport and Westerly, R.I. (also including Stonington and Mystic).

Fausold said that it generally takes two days or so for the group to get from city to city. “We usually cap the biking at 50 miles per day,” she said.

The team has worked with a variety of groups in New Haven, Fausold said. On Thursday students operated a table at the downtown farmers market. Earlier in the week they visited Phoenix Press, a printer powered by an on-site wind turbine; attended a rally planning meeting run by 350.org; and hit a community meeting of a variety of local groups.

“New Haven’s on the right track,” Fausold observed.

Team members gave different answers when asked about the most interesting activity they had been involved with during their travels. Fausold said she enjoyed working with Providence Green Pathways, a city-run initiative in Providence training jobless young people for work in green industries. Escudero recalled the group’s stay at the Voluntown Peace Trust, a self-described “center for social change and sustainable living,” where she helped recycle electronics to raise money for the organization.

Louisa Kellogg, a Providence native entering her sophomore year at Brown University, said that a highlight of her summer took place in Bridgeport, where the group put together a rally at the Bridgeport Harbor Coal Plant that drew 35 people and got the plant’s attention.

“I’d never organized anything like that before,” Kellogg said.

Thursday’s work at the Clinton Avenue School was organized by Grow New Haven. This is the group’s first school-based garden, although there are four gardens at New Haven schools already. Chris Randall of Grow New Haven said he hopes that the new garden will redefine students’ relationship with the earth.

“We want to increase kids’ experience with food throughout their education,” Randall said.

Volunteers installed raised beds, made by students at the Sound School, and filled them with a mixture consisting of layered cardboard, wood chips, compost and grass for a rich, nutrient-heavy soil.

Fourth-grade classes will have the biggest role in maintaining the garden at the K-8 school, but all grades will have jobs, according to teacher Donna Carlson.

The students plan to leave New Haven Sunday for the final week of their program, which all teams spend working in Boston. (The Rhode Island/Connecticut team will be working in the Roxbury neighborhood.) The program as a whole will then prepare a “state of the movement” report, summarizing the activities they have seen. Three of the other teams have been working in Massachusetts, and New Hampshire and Maine have one team apiece.

Besides the chance to work with community groups across New England, the students in the New England Climate Summer have been able to explore the region on two wheels. For example, Fausold—who hails from Watkins Glen in central New York—said she had never before visited any of the towns and cities on her route.

“I’ve loved getting to learn about all of these different places,” she said.

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