Benches for fairgrounds. Baseball field renovation. Repainting fire hydrants. Common Eagle Scout projects, all of the above.
Justin Hone completed an entirely different kind of Eagle Scout project recently. It was innovative and multilayered and forward-thinking. It transformed the greenhouse at his alma mater, Lake Forest Country Day School (LFCDS), and it continues to impact grade school students and veterans alike.
“Justin cares about the community and the people in it, along with recognizing the importance of organic farming and healthy eating.” Kevin Nicholson, a Lower School science teacher at LFCDS, says.
“He’s down-to-earth, big on giving back,” the teacher adds.
The Eagle Scout project started with a Google search last spring. Hone, now a junior at Lake Forest Academy, looked for information about veteran organizations in Lake County and discovered Growing Healthy People (GHP), a not-for-profit group based in Grayslake at the time. Its primary mission is to teach veterans about organic sustainable farming, with an additional aim centering around employment opportunities.
Hone (Troop 46, Lake Forest) called GHP’s executive director, Viet Nam War veteran Cheryl Besenjak.
“I told him, ‘Come visit us, let’s talk,’ ” Besenjak recalls.
Hone stopped by, and GHP’s aquaponic garden beds fascinated him immediately. An aquaponic system harnesses fish waste to fertilize and grow edible plants. Fish in each fish tank dart to and fro underneath a bed of nutrient-rich pebbles.
Hone started to think during his tour of the GHP facility, his Eagle Scout project becoming clearer and more ambitious. Maybe the greenhouse at LFCDS could house a GHP aquaponic system. Or two. Or three. The project had the potential to accentuate the learning environment at his alma mater and assist veterans at the same time. Two visions, one stone.
The teenager contacted adults at LFCDS and pitched his project.
The adults welcomed it.
Hone planned and built and installed three aquaponic planters, all while supervising about 10 volunteers. He had raised money for the parts. Besenjak and her GHP cohort, Kevin Westing, offered plenty of support during the 116-hour endeavor, completed right before the start of the 2016-17 academic year.
LFCDS and GHP are partners.
GHP’s new home base: the greenhouse at LFCDS.
“He’s such a fine young man, serious and committed, interested in serving and providing,” Besenjak says of Hone, whose Eagle Scout advisor was Steve Doherty. “Justin wanted to do something different, something substantial.
“Our country,” she adds, “is going to need a million new farmers during the next 10 years. Veterans have the skills, the determination, to become many of our nation’s next food providers.”
You’ve heard of the farm-to-table movement, restaurants forming relationships with farms rather than purchasing food from a distributor or a food service or some other middle agent. Greenhouse-farm-to-cafeteria can’t be too far away at LFCDS.
“I see the use of our space at the school to grow vegetables [for LFCDS lunch fare], maybe by the end of this school year or as a part of an initiative for next year,” Nicholson says. “Our students, already, are taking microgreens, grown here at the school, home and talking about them with their parents, eating them with their parents. They’re understanding how food is produced and where food is produced. They’re talking about healthy eating, and they’re becoming more and more mindful of topics such as sustainable agriculture and our global footprint.”
Hone hopes to someday hoof around a campus in the Washington, D.C. area, as a double major in International Studies and a foreign language. Years ago he turned in his first-ever research paper to Mr. Crofts, a social studies teacher at LFCDS and, no doubt, one of many on the growing list of Proud Mentors of Justin Hone.
“After college I’d like to work in the State Department,” Hone says. “Or maybe for the CIA.”
Serve as United States Secretary of Agriculture.
Just a hunch.