A late summer morning is the best time to be in the garden. When the sun is shining but the heat of the day hasn’t caught up to you, it’s easy to be swept away by the magic of the outdoors.
A bounty of bright red tomatoes sits on their vine, ready to be picked. A swell of buzzing can be heard from the beehives in the back of the space, interspersed with conversation of high school volunteers talking about their weekend plans as they weed plant beds. The smell of the herb garden, basil and rosemary and parsley, drifts through the air.
After two summers of volunteering with ReWild Long Island, a local environmental group that brings high-schoolers to 10 different community gardens, I have seen firsthand how impactful gardening can be — for the one doing it, for the community, for the environment, even for fighting hunger.
The ReWild summer program gives people of my generation an opportunity to learn to grow food sustainably, compost, and remove invasive plants. While a great portion of the summer consists of learning gardening skills and environmental practices through hands-on work, the program also helps foster a sense of community, both in the program and in general. Students and adult mentors work together and learn from each other, and the harvest is donated to the food pantry at Our Lady of Fatima in Manorhaven.
While I've learned the benefits and joys of gardening, many of my high school peers are completely uninterested. I know, how could high-schoolers not jump at the chance to wake up early on a summer day to crouch for hours weeding invasives or turning smelly compost bins? But the disinterest goes beyond the activity itself. On some level, many in my generation feel they’re already making a difference, not by getting their hands dirty, but by spending time on their phones.
Why weed out invasive plants under a blazing sun when you’re already helping the environment by reposting a video about global warming on TikTok? Why spend hours working with other gardeners when you’re connected to 500 people on Snapchat? Why pick hundreds of cherry tomatoes one by one and donate them to needy families when you’re already fighting hunger by following a feed-the-hungry account on Instagram?
I understand — that was my perspective when I first began gardening. My mother suggested I do the summer program, and as someone with a fear of bees and bugs, I thought it was not going to be for me. But I soon learned that true impact and meaningful rewards come with months of effort.
Rather than getting a quick hit from a social media post, I formed true connections at these community gardens. I plucked thousands of weeds in order to make way for native plants that would attract pollinators. I weighed fresh produce that would be donated.
To my fellow high-schoolers: If you want to do something for the environment, put down your phone and pick up your shovel. Break a sweat doing some hard work that will really make a difference. It will be one of the best choices you ever made … and your phone will be there when you’re done.
This guest essay reflects the views of Dora Fields, a junior at Northport High School.
This guest essay reflects the views of Dora Fields, a sophomore at Northport High School.