Jacqueline Labate is an education consultant and runs a non-profit called The Growing Peace Project (GPP). She recently submitted the following piece for our blog.

The Growing Peace Project, a program of Milestone Adventures, Inc, is a Vermont nonprofit dedicated to empowering youth to address social justice issues.  We sponsor a year-long collaboration between students from diverse backgrounds, during which they learn about each others’ cultures, tackle social justice issues, and engage in service learning.  The project culminates in a summer leadership retreat in Topsham, VT, where student teams create action plans for their respective communities, while addressing the following four strengths: developing leadership and peacemaking skills, building relationships, becoming “citizens of conscience,” and cultivating personal empowerment.   As the number of participants grows each year, follow-up retreats and an online presence enable young activists to continue to network and share resources.

One of our core programs is called Food For Thought.  Throughout the 4-day retreat we explore themes of hunger and food insecurity, and consider this question: “Can there be peace in the world if people are hungry?”  To put a real face on the issues students help harvest the Growing Peace garden, our free food garden dedicated to serving local community members in need.  They deliver the produce to a local homeless shelter where they prepare meals for guests.  After researching organizations that address food insecurity, each student leaves the retreat ready to implement a service learning project during the coming school year.

Our free food garden is an important bridge that works on many levels.  It helps our students better understand the impact of food insecurity, and gives them an opportunity to serve.  It benefits local families who are invited to harvest food they need.  It provides produce to area organizations such as Vermont Foodbank, Head Start, Senior Centers, as well as food shelves and homeless shelters.  Finally, it provides the basis for a series of family cooking classes we hope to hold this year.

Designed to help parents and children prepare nutritious meals together our cooking classes will focus on fun with food.  In each 3-hour session we’ll talk about healthy eating while creating an easy, cost-saving meal together, with an emphasis on garden produce.  Each family will leave with recipes and enough groceries to recreate the meals for a family of 4.

For more information, to make a donation, or to lend a hand please visit The Growing Peace Project online or email director Jacqueline Labate at thegrowingpeaceproject@gmail.com.