How does a 10-acre farm improve the health of local youth?
I first visited Project GROWS in 2012. The organization had broken ground just 3 months earlier. Ryan Blosser, the part-time project coordinator, and Sam Berenstain, the part-time farm manager, gave us a tour of the farm, which consisted of a tiny tool shed, four rows of tomatoes, a handful of raised beds made of old tree posts, and a deer fence. The garden was small, and only 85 students visited the farm that year, but the vision was huge and inspiring. A community-based, educational farm growing a healthier generation of youth through garden-based education and access to healthy food. A place where people would learn about where their food comes from and make connections between the soil, the land, their health, and each other. I knew right away that I wanted be a part of this ambitious vision that was also deeply rooted in our community.
After completing six months of my fellowship program at Allegheny Mountain Institute, I spent my second year as a phase two Fellow at Project GROWS. Since then, I have had the great privilege of watching this organization grow and thrive over the last 7+ years. We have seen kids who had never eaten a vegetable happily eat spinach and ask for seconds. We have handed out cabbage slaw samples to middle school students and had their parents email us later for the recipe because their child came home saying how much they loved it and wanted to eat it again. We have seen families transform the way they cook and feed their families after learning that healthy eating is possible on a budget at one of our cooking classes in partnership with Virginia Cooperative Extension. When kids are asked where their food comes from they no longer sincerely answer “the grocery store” but instead know their food is grown at a farm because they have helped plant, weed, and harvest it!
This community change has not happened alone – you have made it possible by investing your time (over 445 volunteers donating over 2,000 hours in 2018!), hard-earned money ($30,000 donated by individual community members in 2018!), and passion (we partnered with 25 local nonprofit organizations and schools in 2018). And now we need your continued support.
In 2012, we never would have guessed that we would be hosting over 1,200 students on our farm each year and serving more than 5,400 kids total through hands-on field trips, farm to school tastings, cooking classes, farmer’s markets, and community food donations. We are growing healthy youth in a big way, and now its time to grow our farm to meet our community’s needs.
This year, we are launching Barn-Raising, our 2019 fundraising campaign for our next big project – a barn at our home base, Project GROWS farm on Berry Farm Road. This barn will help us double our programs, serving more youth than ever and growing and getting more fresh local produce onto plates in our community. It will also create a beautiful community space serving Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta County that includes a community meeting room, outdoor educational kitchen, safe food-packing facilities, and cold food storage for storing more vegetables year-round.
We need to grow, and we need your help. We have already raised $100,000 of a total barn cost of $150,000. Please consider a monthly donation to our 2019 Barn-Raising campaign, and help us reach our remaining goal of $50,000 from May 10 to July 31!
Thank you for all you do to make our community a healthy place to live!
Jenna Piersol, Executive Director