BRICK, NJ — Sofia Gonzales-Trelles believes healthy eating is important. But she also understands healthy eating is easier to accomplish when healthy foods are easily accessible.
So the Brick Township High School freshman and Jersey Shore Girl Scout has been working to not only help other kids understand the importance of eating healthy, but creating a way to help deliver healthy foods — vegetables in particular — year-round.
“I have struggled with my weight since I was little,” Sofia, who’s 14 and in the STEM academy at Brick, said. “You have to know more about food to control what you’re eating and how you’re eating. I didn’t want other kids to struggle the way I had.”
That’s why, for her Girl Scout Silver Award Take Action project, Sofia focused on helping to teach other kids about healthy foods and helping to get those foods more easily available. Sofia, a member of Troop 781 of the Jersey Shore Council, called her project Healthy Eating 101. It included workshops to teach kids, and a plan to make the greenhouse at Lake Riviera Middle School into a solar-powered, climate-controlled enclosure that allows students to grow vegetables year-round.
Like so much this year, Sofia’s efforts were disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
She held her first workshop with a group of sixth- and seventh-graders on March 6 at Lake Riviera, talking with the students and playing a game that focused on them choosing good foods by moving around the room based on their choices.
“I consulted with their teacher beforehand because I didn’t want them to be bored,” Sofia said.
When Gov. Phil Murphy closed schools just days later, Sofia’s workshops were shelved. Her plans to make alterations to the greenhouse were disrupted as well.
“We couldn’t go to the school to get the specs on the existing greenhouse,” she said, which she needed to design the alterations. Once she was able to get the information, Sofia created drawings and a model to show what the transformed greenhouse, which is in the mall area of Lake Riviera Middle School, and add climate controls to control the temperatures year-round.
“It’s either too hot or too cold” now, she said. would look like. It would add a drip irrigation system, to water the plants without wasting water, and an automatic composter. Everything would run off a solar-powered system that would capture the direct sunlight the greenhouse is exposed to in the school’s mall area.
The greenhouse, funded with a grant from Sustainable Jersey For Schools, was put built by members of the school’s Green Team club, including Sofia. She’s now part of the Green Team at Brick Township High School, where they are working for Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification as well.
Sofia sought donations from local businesses and got support from Home Depot and Lowe’s for the materials, and she said they’ve been flexible about the assistance.
“The gift certificates were going to expire,” but with the ongoing pandemic, Sofia said, Home Depot has been understanding about being willing to delay the donation until they’re able to do the work.
Once they begin, she anticipates the work will be done in stages, and take much longer than the two weeks it took her to build the model, which she recently presented to Lake Riviera Middle School.
She’s hopeful the impact will last far longer.
“The Take Action project is supposed to be something that makes a permanent change,” she said. A solar-powered, climate-controlled greenhouse could last for years and teach sustainable efforts to hundreds of students.
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This article originally appeared on the Brick Patch