Hometown Hero: Brady student has planted roots in his community

Nick Pagauisan (center), a sophomore at Bishop Brady High School, works the soil before planting seeds that will eventually be replanted at Sycamore Garden at NHTI. Pagauisan leads a group of Bishop Brady students to help the refugee community to grow vegetables.

Nick Pagauisan (center), a sophomore at Bishop Brady High School, works the soil before planting seeds that will eventually be replanted at Sycamore Garden at NHTI. Pagauisan leads a group of Bishop Brady students to help the refugee community to grow vegetables. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Nick Pagauisan, a sophomore at Bishop Brady High School, works the soil before planting seeds that will eventually be replanted at Sycamore Garden at NHTI.

Nick Pagauisan, a sophomore at Bishop Brady High School, works the soil before planting seeds that will eventually be replanted at Sycamore Garden at NHTI. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Nick Pagauisan, a sophomore at Bishop Brady High School, works the soil before planting seeds that will eventually be replanted at Sycamore Garden at NHTI. Pagauisan leads a group of Bishop Brady students to help the refugee community to grow vegetables.

Nick Pagauisan, a sophomore at Bishop Brady High School, works the soil before planting seeds that will eventually be replanted at Sycamore Garden at NHTI. Pagauisan leads a group of Bishop Brady students to help the refugee community to grow vegetables. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Nick Pagauisan, a sophomore at Bishop Brady High School, works the soil before planting seeds that will eventually be replanted at Sycamore Garden at NHTI. Pagauisan leads a group of Bishop Brady students to help the refugee community to grow vegetables.

Nick Pagauisan, a sophomore at Bishop Brady High School, works the soil before planting seeds that will eventually be replanted at Sycamore Garden at NHTI. Pagauisan leads a group of Bishop Brady students to help the refugee community to grow vegetables. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

By RAY DUCKLER

Monitor staff

Published: 10-16-2023 6:03 PM

Nick Pagauisan, a sophomore at Bishop Brady High School, is growing in more ways than one.

While he’s at the age, 16, in which height and maturity are often on the rise, his vegetable plants are, too, giving him a green thumb that would fill the Jolly Green Giant with envy.

Once matured to a certain height, he and his team of 10 Brady students transfer the plants, grown in room 201 of the high school, to the Sycamore Garden on the campus of NHTI, across from the soccer field.

Individuals, mostly refugees from Nepal and Bhutan, come to the garden and bring home their favorite vegetables, to replant or build salads or something else.

The options are vast: lettuce, red peppers, green peppers, basil, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, squash and more. The project costs just $300 per year, so fundraising is relatively easy, with one-third of the cost coming from Chipotle restaurant.

And the program is not run by a staff member at Brady. Science teacher Suzy Seagroves calls herself the group leader of the process and she used to be in charge, until last year. Her classroom is where the life cycle that runs through spring begins.

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But Seagroves is more of a figurehead now.

Pagauisan runs the show, which is why Seagroves submitted his name to the Monitor to honor him as a Hometown Hero.

“He gets everyone to work,” Seagroves said. “He delegates, he organizes and he has a fabulous way of getting people to work. He’s got great leadership skills and he makes everyone part of the project.”

That’s why Seagroves moved aside, allowing the 16-year-old sophomore to take the controls.

“She said I knew it best,” Pagauisan said. “She helped and then she appointed me as the leader. I was a little nervous because it was a big operation to take over, but I knew if I was wrong about something, I knew I could learn if I had to.”

He learned when he was a little kid. He watched his father grow eggplants and green beans outside. He said that in the beginning at Brady, he needed to experiment a little to turn his thumb green, using trial and error to figure things out.

These days, the Sycamore Garden growers are happy to have him. The team begins planting in late March, in Seagroves’s classroom. The potted plants remain under a hot light and are watered by the team for 1½ months.

Then they grow for about a month, this time on the classroom tables. The plants are then loaded into a bus and driven to the Sycamore Garden at NHTI and replanted. Customers, mostly New Americans, can choose their vegetables and either spoil them for a bit longer or bring them home on the spot.

The entire process runs from late March through May, although harvesting can take all summer with certain vegetables, like squash. Lettuce also takes time, needing special care and housed in a donated, self-watering hydroponic garden. Onions and basil are easier to grow.

The basil is sold at the annual December Craft Fair and the proceeds are invested back into the program.

The garden is accessible by public transportation, helpful to the refugee community because many of the people live on The Heights and don’t drive.

Pagauisan sees this as a lifelong hobby.

“I want to get into gardening and get into my stuff when I am older,” Pagauisan said. “This experience with the Sycamore Garden is different than doing it outdoors, but it’s something I really enjoy.”

Meanwhile, Seagroves, who says she has a brown thumb, is enjoying the view.

“The two best things with this is they show up,” Seagroves said, “and he delegates completely. I can just sit back and watch.”