This past school year, the Garden at St. Francis, in North Bellmore, bridged the gap between Bellmore-Merrick’s high schools and the nature sanctuary, thanks to the efforts of Lily Yepez, a recent graduate of Wellington C. Mepham High School.
Taking part in the school’s senior experience internship program, Yepez worked alongside Kristin Talbot, the garden’s manager, learning about holistic nutrition, farming and biology, which is something she’s long been interested in.
On Sundays in the summer, the garden hosts a farm stand, selling fresh produce grown throughout the season. Yepez, who lives nearby, said she had visited the stand in the past. Her friend Julia Amon, who is completing her Girl Scout Gold Award project at the garden, suggested she get in touch with Talbot about completing her internship there.
“I knew I wanted to do something with herbology and gardening,” Yepez, 18, said. “I was always interested in eating healthy and a natural lifestyle. And when I met Kristin, I was like, this is perfect. She was the right person at the right time.”
Yepez began working at St. Francis last August, and went into the internship with the intention of helping at the garden and learning more about its operations, but she said she also had a vision of something she might create, with Talbot’s help.
“I was like, ‘What if we started an herb garden?’” she recalled. “Originally it was for anxiety and anti-inflammatory herbs, because my brother really struggled with anxiety.”
Her brother, Yepez said, turned to natural forms of healing, which helped him. When she suggested creating an herb patch at St. Francis, Talbot was all for the idea.
The patch, which is now blooming behind the church, separate from where most of the vegetables are grown, has plants like sage, rosemary and lavender. Rosemary, Yepez said, is good for skin and hair care, while lavender has estrogen-like properties, so it helps balance women’s hormones. Sage, she added, is super fragrant and great for cooking.
Aside from all she learned about gardening, Yepez said that her internship revolved around the relationship she formed with Talbot. “I really made an amazing connection with Kristin as a person,” she said. “We got to really appreciate nature and the space, and a couple times before we did our work, we took time and meditated in the garden.
“That aligns with both of our paths, and what we want for the garden,” Yepez added. “A big part of it was really connecting with nature and connecting with ourselves, and each other.”
Yepez said she was happy that Mepham allowed her to complete her internship at the garden, because what she wanted to do was a bit atypical.
Her teacher, Allyson Alciviades, said that when students are seniors, there are lots of social studies and English classes available to them, and the senior experience class gives them real-world experience in a setting outside school. Students who opt to take the class, which meets twice a week, get three periods off from traditional classes to work on their internship.
“It’s a great opportunity for a lot of people, and that was the first farmer I ever had,” Alciviades said of Yepez. “But that definitely made it so exciting that it was something so different.”
What’s blossomed, so to speak, from Yepez’s internship is a connection between the garden and the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District.
“I tried to connect with Mepham last wintertime, and I just couldn’t do it,” Talbot told the Herald earlier this year. “And then three weeks in from Lily being here, we’re connected with the people that we need to be in order to work together as two community groups. Previously there was no avenue there, and Lily literally made the avenue between all the volunteer groups for Mepham and St. Francis.”
At Mepham, Yepez was involved with several clubs and organizations, and was class president and the school’s Board of Education representative. She formed a solid relationship with Bellmore-Merrick Superintendent Mike Harrington.
“There’s just a lot of people who I found during my time who are very like-minded … and those people, like the superintendent, (are) so open and willing to do something that everyone wants to be part of,” Yepez said.
“Everyone wants to be a part of this, reconnecting with nature and helping people. The church has really helped me to do that, and connect Mepham and all of Bellmore-Merrick.”
Yepez will attending Hofstra University in the fall, on a softball scholarship. She plans to study exercise science, and since she’ll be close to home, she also plans to help out the garden when she can.