September is now well under way and all the CitySprouts garden coordinators are busy getting their gardens in shape for the new school year. Today I checked in with Solomon Montagno, CitySprouts’ newest garden coordinator, to see how the garden was shaping up at the Amigos School in Cambridge.
When I arrived at Amigos, I found Solomon hard at work clearing out some weeds that had crawled their way around the school’s chain-link fence. “A huge part of getting the garden ready for the classroom is making sure it looks nice and inviting,” he said. “We want the garden to be a space that teachers, kids, and the whole community can see and be proud of.”
According to Solomon, planning a school garden has some unique challenges that home gardens don’t face — most notably, the need to choose plants that sync up with the school year. “You have to plant seeds that can grow and survive into the colder months,” he explained. In the Amigos garden he’ll be planting fall-friendly crops like garlic, kale, collards, cauliflower, and spinach. “Spinach is particularly important nutritionally,” he said. “It’s very high in protein.”
Gardening and healthy eating have been a part of Solomon’s life since childhood, thanks to the influence of his parents. “They were kind of hippies,” he joked. “My dad is a horticulurist–he has a PhD in that. And whenever I got sick, my mom was the kind of person who would cut some herbs from the garden and make it them into a tea.” Dinner in the Montagno home usually included some vegetable freshly picked from the family garden.
Solomon brought that interest in plants and nutrition to Union College in New York, where his course of study in biology included research into the link between changes in human diet and the rise of medical problems like diabetes, heart disease, and certain forms of cancer. He sees his work with CitySprouts as a natural application of what he studied in school.
“We’re making strides in getting people back in touch with where their food comes from,” he said, “but we still have a long way to go. I want to show kids that there is a healthier way of eating.”
Solomon is particularly enthusiastic about working at Amigos School because of its dual-language immersion program. “I hope the kids can teach me some Spanish,” he said.
In addition to the Amigos School, Solomon now serves as the garden coordinator at the Martin Luther King, Jr. School of Cambridge and the Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary and Lee Academy Pilot School of Boston.