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SES student helps Rogers Park and Edgewater restore butterfly population

By Alex Schmidt '16

Last fall, a new program started at Swift Elementary School in Edgewater. Fourth grade students spent the afternoons outside away from screens and electronics, reconnecting with the outdoors. The program taught students about sustainable gardening, and specifically showed them how planting milkweed can save the monarch butterfly population. Loyola’s very own Marina Garcia started the program. Garcia is an SES student studying Sustainable Agriculture and is the recipient of the 2015 Community Action Scholarship. Garcia is passionate about sustainable agriculture and has invented a way to educate youth about the importance of Monarchs. “It’s really fun for them to be outside and have an engaging activity to do,” she said.  “I want to capture the students’ interest and show them that sustainability can be fun”.

Garcia and her Swift elementary students planted milkweed, a plant that is crucial to the survival of Monarchs. The Monarch Butterfly population in North America has declined over 80 percent in the past two decades. "Butterflies are our second highest pollinator, and we rely on them for our food production," said Garcia. This is why she teaches her students about the importance of pollinators to our food system. “It’s a culture shock for many of the kids to understand where their food is coming from. That’s why I want to teach them how to grow their own food and take charge of what’s going into their bodies.” 

Throughout Rogers Park and Edgewater, Garcia is restoring Illinois’ native butterflies, one seed at a time. She has planted milkweed with Heartland Café, Sullivan High School, and Berger Park.  “Even if only one or two of the plants come out of all of this, I know we are changing monarchs lives, and changing the community.” Garcia hopes to expand her project throughout then neighborhoods that border Loyola.                 

An early interest in sustainability

Garcia first learned about sustainability when she was 15, while volunteering at Green Youth Farm, now called Windy City Harvest Youth Farm. After staying all four years of high school, she became the director of junior Green Youth Farm. “If it wasn’t for that experience, I wouldn’t be here today,” she said. “If I can change a kid’s life in the way that program changed me, then I’ll already have made a huge success in the world.”

Garcia was also garden director at Harper Elementary School and the assistant director for Science First camp. Garcia received her associate’s degree in sustainable agriculture at the College of Lake County before transferring to Loyola in Jan 2015. One of the connections she made at Green Youth Farm was Kevin Erickson, who is now the urban agriculture coordinator at SES. He recommended that she join the program and transfer to Loyola. “I never thought that I’d be here at Loyola. I’ve never been an A student, until now. I’m so thankful for that push to come here,” she said.