Last year, Jason Thornton discovered his true passion for giving back to a community in the form of service. Thornton, a current Salt Lake Community College student, and member of the culinary arts program, explains, “It’s just been a passion of mine to be involved with community gardening,” says Thornton.
In the spirit of friendly competition, Thornton tells of a competition involved with the culinary arts program over the years called “Skills U.S.A.,” in which placing state means free tuition for an entire year. “I thought this was a nice incentive [to] pay for school,” says Thornton.
This year, Thornton, alongside Adam Dastrup, developed a program called Seeds of Hope. Though it started small, community involvement has helped the program gain recognition. Thornton assigned three students to help put together the seed house in order to grow the seeds. Gloria Santacruz, David Bales, and Zachary Chackary all lent a hand last year, and have been chosen for the job again.
By doing this, Thornton is able to share his knowledge about the importance of organic tomatoes, as well as give them to friends in the community. “I thought, if I [was] to grow tomatoes out and give them to my friends, hopefully I would influence their buying these organic tomatoes later on,” Thornton says, “It’s basically my participation in community gardening by giving the seeds, so I’m able to help out.”
Thornton has always had an interest in sustainable food systems, but recognizes the impact that gardening has had on his life and how it has transformed him. “I’ve seen it transform other people who come from difficult backgrounds,” he says. “Seeds of Hope took on its own name as it gave me the hope to actually do this. There’s nothing wasteful in the garden, and we’re actually growing as individuals in the community.”
Thornton finds joy in getting friends involved with the project, as well as growing the seedlings and plants in order to give them out to the community or to people who are learning to garden for the first time, or who have trouble paying for groceries. “In the future, I hope that as the students who take care of the seed house go off to competitions, hopefully they’ll earn free tuition as well,” says Thornton, “But also that we’ll be strengthening the relationship we have with students in the community.”
In getting a number of people involved, Thornton shares a partnership with a number of places that have great community gardens, such as Wasatch Community Gardens, and Calvary Baptist Church. “It’s just great to see how much a student can impact the community,” Thornton says. “This is something that I couldn’t have done alone. Having an idea and talking to people about it really took a life on its own.”
Thornton would like to point out that the students who have become involved played a vital role in allowing this program to take form. “I can’t take full credit for it,” he says. “I don’t want this to be my garden. I want it to belong to the community. The students that were put onto my team had to qualify; otherwise [we] wouldn’t be able to compete for tuition. They were very helpful.”