If you knew Jessica Polledri back in the day, you probably wouldn’t have predicted she’d be growing food for a living. “I was never good at science,” she says, “and I killed my house plants in college. My college roommate still doesn’t believe that a lot of my work since graduation has involved keeping plants alive, let alone producing food.”
And yet that’s what Polledri has spent the bulk of her time on since 2007, when she went to work on organic farms in Hawaii. Polledri, who graduated Verona High School with the class of 2003, also worked at a native plant nursery at a conservation foundation in Florida, where where she did landscaping for wildlife and coastal rehabilitation projects. In 2010, she moved to Portland, where she now volunteers at a low-income elementary school as an after-school garden club teacher and serves on the school’s garden committee.
“I believe in eating locally and growing at least some of your own food, since a lot of gas is wasted carting vegetables around the country and across oceans,” Polledri says. “I also really believe that knowing how to grow your own vegetables is a major step on the road out of poverty, which is why teaching kids from low-income areas about gardening is so important to me.” The organization that she volunteers for in Portland, Growing Gardens, both builds school gardens, particularly those where a large percentage of students qualify for free or reduced lunches, and installs gardens at the homes of poor people to give them better access to fresh produce. These gardens are completely free and come with seeds, plants and three years of mentoring.
As a garden educator, Polledri teaches kids about the life cycles of plants, basic gardening skills and healthy eating habits. Each garden club session ends with her giving the kids a healthy, seasonal snack, often vegetables that the students haven’t tried before. She also teaches family-oriented workshops on seed starting and beginning gardening. “I definitely didn’t think I’d be going down this path,” says Polledri, who was an English major in college. “I thought I’d be working in an office in New York City. So much for planning.”
Polledri, who recently took a School Garden Coordinator Certification course, says the hardest part of her job is classroom management since she is not an educator by background. “The actual growing food part of my work is easy, since I love to do it and have my own garden at home.”
“The most rewarding part is seeing the kids get excited about planting seeds and taking care of the plants they grow,” she adds. “Usually, everyone loves planting seeds, even the older students who think they’re too cool for garden club. I also like seeing them realize that they actually like vegetables.”
Good job jess..do well. Nono will be proud
Anyone who knows Jess also knows that she would have been successful at absolutely anything she attempted. Well done Jess!
Great job Jess! Keep up the good work. Sounds like you are making a difference in a lot of lives.