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Growing on Common Ground

What’s more important than the farmers who feed us today? The farmers of tomorrow.

Common Ground High School is located in New Haven, Connecticut. It’s the state’s only charter school focusing on environmental education. The faculty and staff work closely with the 165 students to prepare them for college and careers in the environmental field.

In addition, the school runs a number of programs open to the public to teach farming and natural resources. Here, learning extends beyond the classroom. The school’s 20 acre campus, located at the base of West Rock in New Haven, offers a living laboratory to students, faculty, staff, and community members. Contained within is a working organic, urban farm, along with a network of trails that wind through diverse habitats.

After experiencing heavy rains, Common Ground sought assistance from NRCS when excessive runoff from West Rock began flooding the school’s cropland. Runoff was also threatening water quality as it ran through exposed compost stored in close proximity to the channel.

To address these conditions, NRCS developed a conservation plan. A composting facility is in the design phase, as is a lined waterway, roof runoff management, and an underground outlet to address water quantity and quality concerns. Nutrient management and waste utilization plans are also being developed to minimize potential threats to water quality.

In 2011, the school was able to install a seasonal high tunnel that is helping extend the school’s growing season. It also provides students additional agricultural experience. Additionally, NRCS has helped the school find appropriate tools and techniques to reduce crop damage from nuisance wildlife.

NRCS’s active partnership with Common Ground not only helps students learn, but also helps the community. In 2011, they produced more than 5,000 lbs. of food, on one acre– enough for every student to receive free lunch and have plenty left over to distribute into the community.

The assistance provided by NRCS has helped students learn how to work toward sustainable living and find balance between the diverse needs of various communities. This partnership has lead to a substantial, long-term benefit to the public by helping train the next generation of farmers, conservationists, and decision makers.

This school is showing that although communities like New Haven face daunting challenges, such as high rates of residents living below the poverty level, they can come together to find ways to live sustainable, healthy lives.