Vegetarian Action

Sprouting Veganism at School

By Laura McGuiness

I spent a lot of time as a child picking vegetables at James Lick High School’s well-known community garden in San Jose, California. As a senior there in the summer of 2012, I learned that the area had been abandoned by previous classes, and I took on the task of restoring it to its previous splendor, while simultaneously promoting a vegan diet.

It began with contacting the school’s Environmental Club president with a proposal. Once the idea for a restoration project was approved, the race to beat the fall planting season was already on.

The founding class of the James Lick Garden Restoration Project graduated in the summer of 2012, leaving the garden weeded and yielding many crops. Before leaving, I taught the underclassmen volunteers the proper ways to weed, water, and harvest the garden, and treated them to vegan chocolate chip zucchini muffins, made using the garden’s zucchini crop.This yummy vegan treat was the beginning of the garden’s many vegan possibilities.

During 2013, when a new group of members was caring for the garden, the school held a student relations board meeting where the absence of vegan options in the cafeteria was discussed. Christen Nguyen, Vice President of the Environmental Club, informed the student body that by volunteering in the garden, they could promote vegan lifestyles within the school. This brought attention to the program and piqued students’ interests about vegetarian food available in their own community. “Our vision was to promote healthy but tasty eating while also thinking local so as not to hurt the environment with nonlocal foods,” Nguyen stated.

Vegan recipes were a new concept at James Lick; students started harvesting the vegetables, experimenting with them, and encouraging vegan options within the school. Alex Ponik, a biology teacher and adviser for the Environmental Club, decided he wanted to take action as well. As Ponik’s curriculum reached the nitrogencycle, he started using the school garden as an example. He asked the entire class how they could work to improve the garden’s productivity, and offered extra credit for any students who could propose a viable solution.

A student in Ponik’s biology class, John Duque, said, “Little did we know that by the end of the year we would be reaping the rewards of the garden. For the last day of our class, the AP Biology class had a potluck where groups of students would only use ingredients coming from the garden.” Only recipes using produce from the garden could be used, and students created healthy and tasty vegetable-based dishes that even branched out into cookies, juices, and smoothies.

This year’s seniors left with a newfound outlook on vegan food, exiting the classroom with 50 individual bags containing three different types of vegetables from the garden. Next year, the Environmental Club hopes to host a Healthy Eating Day. They are already in contact with a nutritionist and want to harvest the vegetables they planted in the garden to serve a nutritionally-sound meal to interested classmates. With the number of students who happily engaged in promoting the garden and its potential for vegan meals, there is no doubt this school will go far in promoting healthy and local vegan meals within their community.

Laura McGuiness wrote this article while interning with The Vegetarian Resource Group.