Swimming, crafting, and playing games are staples of day camp, but kids at the Waltham YMCA are doing something new this summer.
They’re learning how to plant and cultivate a meadow — and why they should.
“We just want to save the world, that’s all,” said Barbara Passero, cofounder of Meadowscaping for Biodiversity, an outdoor environmental education program for students of all ages, which has partnered with the Y for the project.
Over the course of the summer, Passero and program leader Jean Devine are teaching children the fundamentals of meadow upkeep and the importance of planting exclusively native plants. They are the best hosts for pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and moths. In turn, the insects attract other wildlife such as birds and rabbits, building biodiversity.
While some people’s first instinct would be to spray pesticides to protect their hard work from leaf-munching insects, Passero knows that birds will take care of the insects on their own. She also refuses to use any toxic substances around the children, who truly get their hands dirty digging in the meadow.
Seth Lucas, program administrator at the Waltham Y, said kids love the activity. When he asked some of them to talk with a reporter about the meadow, they looked upset to be losing precious digging time.
Meadowscaping originally approached the Y with the idea back in the spring. Passero said she knew it would be a perfect match because both organizations are dedicated to providing meaningful outdoor education.
“It’s been very cool to see how these kids respond to high-level thought and science,” said Lucas. “We always try to mitigate learning loss and keep learning going when school is out of session, here at the camp.”
Camp Cabot is a choice-based camp where students in grades 2 through 6 choose their activities on a weekly basis. Some kids have been with Meadow Club from the start and continue to choose it week after week. Older kids in other camps at the Y have also asked to help out.
The meadow started as a patch of weedy grass, but is in the process of becoming a 10-by-60-foot flourishing garden. Passero and Devine are setting the meadow up for success with native plants that come back year after year. The plants are self-sustaining and spread on their own.
Another way the project is achieving Meadowscaping for Biodiversity’s mission of “healing the earth through education” is by bringing back the bees.
“Those beautiful flowers you see at Home Depot may not be specialized to feed out native bees,” said Julie Baggio, a Meadowscaping for Biodiversity volunteer.
Baggio had a garden in her own yard, but no bees. In an effort to attract bees, Baggio and her son Alessio tore up her front yard and replaced her flowers with natives. The bees followed.
The same is true for the Waltham Y meadow. There have been plenty of bee sightings, and even a monarch butterfly stopped by during its migration.
Some native plants that the group uses are ironweed, bee balm, swamp milkweed, false indigo, and more than 20 other varieties. The group recommends that homeowners also make the switch to plants native to their area to achieve success in their gardens and avoid the need for pesticides.
Both the Y and Meadowscaping for Biodiversity hope to continue their partnership. And with around half of the kids staying over their allotted time to keep working on a 90-degree day with an outdoor pool nearby, it is safe to say the kids hope the same.
The plants and tools used by the program have been donated through various sources including, the Waltham Cultural Council, Greenhow Inc., RTN, Boston Bark & Mulch, True value by Ideal, Russell’s Garden Center, Russo’s, Waltham Department of Public Works, and Turf Equipment.