Schenectady's Roots and Wisdom a growing experience

A year ago, Eliah Belmar's idea of a good summer did not involve working in a garden all day.

His mother made him fill out an application to work for a new organization sponsored by Cornell Cooperative Extension and the county's Summer Youth Employment Cooperative called Roots and Wisdom.

After one summer picking weeds, harvesting herbs and vegetables and interacting with his community, Belmar, 16, a senior at Schenectady High School, is back for another year, this time with more responsibility as an education and leadership cultivator.

I tell everyone that at first I didn't want to do this, Belmar said. "But the work is fun. You play games and go on field trips, and the people are nice. It's like a summer camp."

In its second year, Roots and Wisdom has grown from 14 youths to 27.

Students range in age from 14 to 18 and are split into three teams guided by college-age advisers.

According to Roots and Wisdom's director, Debbie Forester, the program is designed to be community-service oriented. The youth involved grow organic vegetables, herbs and flowers and sell them at a local food market, but they also donate a portion of everything they grow to the Schenectady Inner City Mission.

Besides donating food, the young people are involved in a variety of service-related activities, including helping at SICM and with the summer lunch program in Mount Pleasant. They are also working to rehabilitate a neighborhood park in Mount Pleasant to be used for recreation and with their gardening efforts.

Roots and Wisdom sells its produce to local supermarkets and restaurants such as the Niskayuna Co-op, Cella Bistro and Earthly Delights and at the St. Luke's Farmer's Market every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The group has also started a harvest share where 15 local families paid a certain amount of money to the program at the beginning of the season. The families then visit the garden, pick whatever produce they would like and the cost is deducted from their balance.

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