The Environmental and Garden Club Ends Year with Notable Successes

Student environmentalists recount their role in a community-wide environmental event and in securing a composting grant


Haileigh Steffen

The Environmental and Gardening Club invited students and community members to their Earth Day Celebration on Friday, April 22 from 11-2 pm inside the Robert A. Lee Community Recreation Center for free educational environmental activities for all ages, live music from ICCSD students, and local food.

Haileigh Steffen, Executive Editor

Across the country, the Covid-19 pandemic has destabilized student and community organizations. One club is making a fast rebound. The Environmental and Gardening Club manages the greenhouse, student gardens, and compost program with a unifying goal of shaping students into future climate leaders. Co-Presidents Matisse Arnone ‘23 and Nora Gibson ‘23 discuss the challenges of coming back from online education and what they have achieved despite this. In particular, the club is ending its year with two notable achievements. Firstly, the club organized a well-attended community event. Secondly, they were the recipient of a composting grant, which will carry their new composting program into the next three years. 

“When we talked about the [Earth Day Event] with Nora, we always remembered when we were kids going to these sorts of events. Being around organizations, older students, and people doing these activities helped us learn,” Arnone said. “And with Covid-19, I feel like a lot of [those community events] have fallen off for kids.”

In late March, the Environmental and Gardening Club invited students and community members to the Robert A. Lee Community Recreation Center on Earth Day for free educational environmental activities for all ages and live music from ICCSD students. There was food from Valerie’s French Cooking and snacks from New Pioneer Food Co-op. The City High Jazz Ensemble, Liberty High Free Strings Ensemble, and student group “The Guys”, among others, performed. 

“I feel like a big thing that came out of [the Earth Day Celebration Event] was that we got to talk to a lot of local organizations and community organizations,” Arnone said. “I thought it was really important that we got to connect with university organizations also. Then, of course, other groups from Liberty High and West High too. So it just brought the entire community together and all the people involved in [sustainable efforts] to one place.”

The Earth Day Celebration event was initially part of a Liberty High’s Students for Environmental Action (SEA) Club project. Community members could order native Midwest tree saplings a month before the Earth Day event through a program called Tree-Plenish. Individuals had the option of either donating them to the Iowa City Park System or choosing to plant the trees in their yards. According to Beatrice Kaskie ‘22, a co-founder of SEA Club, the club members wanted to restore the populations of trees lost during the derecho storm of 2020. The Earth Day Celebration Event was initially organized as the sampling pick-up site for this Tree-Plenish project before SEA Club reached out to other student environmental groups about organizing a larger community event together. 

“I feel like a lot of people think that ‘oh, I’m not like a class president or I’m not a teacher or I’m not an upperclassman, I don’t run a company, I can’t organize this thing,’ But really, it just takes some emails and some time, but anyone can do it,” Arnone said. 

Environmental student groups from City High School, West High School, and Liberty High School joined together to arrange activities that promote environmental stewardship. These student groups want to directly target the issues that most affect the student body. Their collective interests range from curbing student food waste through composting to addressing unsustainable student transportation and creating future climate action leaders throughout the community. One specific goal for the Environmental and Gardening Club was to spearhead a lunchroom composting program. After months of coordination, the club gained approval, acquired bins for the lunchroom, and secured an $8,000 grant to continue their composting program for the next three years. 

“People are always trying to think of ways to make City High a better place and I think the Environmental and Gardening Club has started the ball rolling,” Nora Gibson ‘23 said. “We have the supplies, we have the money. The only thing we need is our students involved.”

Despite the grant, the club worries their composting impact is falling short due to a shortage of student volunteers. Additionally, the co-presidents agree that student compliance still staggers behind their impact goals. In response, the club created school-wide educational content for students to learn about composting. 

“So we took it upon ourselves to try to get more involvement. We made announcements, we made signs to go around the school, we made signs for the TVs, and we’ve had volunteers at the bins telling people like yes, that can go in, that’s great,” Arnone said. “And hold informational advisory meetings. We’ve kind of done everything we can to just let students know what can be in the composting bins and encourage them to compost too. Because it takes maybe 10 seconds of thought, but it makes a big difference.”

The co-founders encourage more students to become involved. 

“I’ve definitely used the compost bin much more,” Nick Thedens ‘22 said. “It’s kind of a convenience thing. I think I wouldn’t really end up going out of my way to do it because I’m just gonna go with whatever’s quickest. But having that there, I’ll just go through the extra five seconds to organize and put stuff in the compost.”