Congratulations to Sara Escallon-Sotomayor, who won this year’s $2,000 Leaside Garden Society Scholarship award.
She’s a graduate of Leaside High, a North Toronto elite soccer player, coach, tutor and my new green hero!
Sara has always been fascinated by nature with a particular interest in plants. Starting at a very young age, she gardened with her parents (growing vegetables and berries) at their Parkhurst Blvd. home.
Today, she’s an avid gardener and plant collector with more than 30 houseplants under her care in her Montreal apartment.
Now, in her final year of study at McGill University, Sara is pursuing an interdisciplinary degree in Environment and Geography. As a student of the environment (with courses in Desert Ecology, Biodiversity and Soil) she has become increasingly interested in the relationship between plant communities and environmental change, as well as the relationship between humans and the natural world.
In her outstanding and inspirational application essay for the LGS she wrote, “Humans need plant communities; plant communities need humans to change so they can continue to provide for all life on Earth.”
Next summer, Sara will be doing her honours project research in the Peruvian Amazon. And this scholarship will help fund the opportunity to implement her own project about the relationships between human and plant communities in the Amazon.
I asked Sara her thoughts on climate change, and she held nothing back.
“Our world is being changed at a rate that is going to cause tremendous harm to all of its inhabitants. Millions of people are going to suffer, and thousands of species are already going extinct,” she said.
Sara believes that prioritizing individual interests and actions among peoples, nations, corporations or continents is what has led to this mess.
But she also sees climate change as a collective action problem and says that only through collective action can we make progress. “We have faced collective action problems for all of our existence, and our ability to work together to solve them is what makes us unique.”
What can gardeners do (right now) to help restore our planet? I asked. She replied that there are three things we can do immediately:
- Educate yourself. It’s important to look at the environment and environmental problems holistically and have a locally rooted perspective.
- Vote. Learn about the climate programs of your elected officials. Don’t let yourself be greenwashed!
- Take action. Solutions start in your own community. Plant pollinator-friendly plants and avoid the use of pesticides and fertilizers (they damage our lakes!). Volunteer in invasive species removal. Above all, get involved.
Sara’s green dreams are fueled with a lot of hope, which she seems to find everywhere. Hope in the millions of people across the world who demand their leaders take action every Friday. Hope in the many ingenious ways species are adapting to the new realities of environmental change, and by the remarkable resilience they have shown.
But for me, it’s Sara and other young people like her who give me the most hope. These “green warriors” choose not to battle with Mother Nature, but instead, join forces with her to find solutions to the problems we have created.
Perhaps this closing line from Sara’s essay says it best:
“With everything I learn during my time at McGill, I hope to be a part of the next generation of creative, open-minded, innovative thinkers to help build a better future for all living things, everywhere.”
This scholarship has been established to honour the initiative of those who in the 1980s had the foresight and energy to form the Leaside Garden Society.