“I wanted a garden to show people how much potential we have at this school.”
A little over a year ago, Julency Myrtil’s father was diagnosed with diabetes. This got the Shelby County high school senior thinking more and more about the importance of a healthy diet. Her school, Bolton High School, is located in a food desert where access to real food is limited for many of the people in her area. While most people might take notice of issues like these and try to make small, positive changes in their own lives, Julency Myrtil isn’t most people. Instead of simply eating better herself, she developed a plan to bring real food back to her school and her community.
Julency decided to spearhead a project to bring a garden to Bolton with the hopes of being able to grow enough produce to donate to families in need. Setting her sights on big change, Julency not only filled out Bolton’s Learning Garden application herself, she also pursued grants to build out robust growing opportunities at the school. She received one grant to build several traditional outdoor beds on school grounds, another to restore Bolton’s old greenhouse – once a part of a now defunct agricultural program, and yet another to bring that agricultural program back to life.
“I really love this school,” she told Big Green. “I wanted to do something to show that Bolton High School is a great school with a lot of potential, one with a welcoming family and strong students with high ambitions.”
Admittedly, Julency harbored some early reservations about the project. She’d noticed that most of her fellow students didn’t think much of a nutritious diet – and she thinks she knows why, “they think because they’re young, it doesn’t matter what they eat.” But in the end, her efforts did not go unnoticed – neither by her schoolmates nor by the local news, who recently ran a story on her project.
“When I first started this project,” Julency confessed, “I had some doubts. I didn’t know if my peers would like my idea. But my peers really like it and all of us have put a lot of effort into the garden. Eating healthy has benefits whether you’re young or old. Having a garden shows that eating healthy is beautiful.”
Julency’s hard work has already paid off. She described being delighted to discover a Learning Garden bursting with produce after her fall break, allowing her to make her first donation of fresh veggies through Bolton’s school food drive.
“We first had a greenhouse garden and three outside garden beds, and the plants were growing very slowly. So, to see how the plants in the Learning Garden grew so fast was like – wow. Since the Learning Garden plants had grown very quickly we were able to donate to families. And that’s my ultimate goal. That was an amazing feeling to have that goal accomplished.”
Working on this project has taught her new skills that she plans to use in the future. She believes she learned how to manage her time, how to work with organizations and different interest groups, and, importantly, how to ask for help.
What’s next for her? Julency plans to go to college and may pursue a degree in marketing and management – or maybe agricultural engineering – or maybe nutrition. The good news is she has plenty of time to decide what she wants to do and is sure to receive glowing recommendations from her teachers and counselors, many of whom have who have sung her praises to Big Green. When she graduates, she’ll be leaving Bolton with a rich garden legacy and a strong community she helped bring together.
“I did the project out of love. At first it started small but with the help of my teachers and especially my counselors it turned out really big. I wasn’t expecting it. It’s like a dream come true.”
Thank you, Julency, for being an incredible student leader in your school community! We feel so lucky to have champions like you caring for your Learning Garden!
To find out how you can support real food communities near you and around the country, please visit www.BigGreen.org/give.