How does a 10-acre Farm improve the health of local youth?

Nichole in the PG pollinator garden

It’s a Wednesday morning in May, and the sun is shining down on a line of excited students who are carefully planting pumpkin seeds into rows while another group tears out our final succession of ovation greens to make room for tomatoes in the high tunnel. Nearby, dozens of muddy hands roll dirt, clay, water, and wildflower seeds into a take-home “seedball” to encourage the spread of wildflowers for pollinator habitat. Meanwhile, a group of students is harvesting, washing, and taste-testing kale and then preparing a salad together under a stand of black locust trees in full bloom. And out in the education space, students are participating in the “Economics of a Tomato” activity, a simulation that asks students to compare the industrial food system with local food systems. Welcome to a Project GROWS field trip! These snapshots of our rotating stations illustrate the energetic, hands-on learning that happens when students visit Project GROWS.

This spring over 600 students from 10 schools will visit our farm for field trips focused on topics like Plant Life Cycles, Soil and Compost, and Earth Patterns, Cycles and Change. Our SOL-aligned instruction helps students connect their classroom learning to a tangible, rich learning experience outdoors where they participate in all of the aspects of our farm for a morning. As education manager, one of the best parts of my job is watching students’ eyes light up when they taste a new vegetable and realize that they like it! Even more fun is seeing these same students later on in their school cafeterias during a Farm to School Tasting, and hearing them say, “Oh, I’ve been to that farm before and it was awesome– yeah, I’ll try that spinach!” Project GROWS field trips provide firsthand experiences for students to learn where their food comes from, and then we build on that positive experience and trust as we strive to increase students’ willingness to try new vegetables and build a culture of health in Staunton, Waynesboro, and August County.

As we look ahead to improving and expanding our educational field trip offerings to local public schools, we recognize that we need indoor and covered spaces to continue to serve kids, even on the worst of days. On rainy days when teachers have to cancel, I often think to myself, If only we had a building! A barn would provide us with kitchen space to host not only indoor cooking and teaching stations for field trips, but also cooking classes for local youth that we currently host off-site. A barn would allow us to close the loop between where food comes from and how it ends up on our plates– and invite young people to take ownership of that entire process, from farm to fork!

As you and your families continue to enjoy healthy, local foods we ask that you would consider pledging with us to build a barn at Project GROWS!

Nichole Barrows, Education Manager