By Aila Boyd
It was announced last month that the garden project, which is known as the “Backyard Challenge,” at Central Academy Middle School (CAMS) had received a Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom grant from Virginia Farm Bureau. The garden, which is a collaboration between the agriculture and art programs at the school, was established three years ago.
The school was one of the 38 localities that received a total of 62 grants for the 2019-2020 school year. The funding will impact 25,000 students throughout Virginia.
Jennifer Hannah has served as the agriscience teacher at CAMS for the past seven years. Her interest in applying for the grant was sparked when the Botetourt County Farm Bureau Women’s Committee gave her some information about the funding program.
“This was the first year that I applied for the grant, so I was very excited when I received word that my application had been accepted,” she said.
The program offers two different types of grants: one to help establish a garden and another to provide an agriculture experience outside of the classroom related to gardening.
Local elementary schools will receive raised beds in the spring of 2020, which will allow Hannah and students the opportunity to partner with the schools to provide seeds as part of an educational outreach program. “I’m going to allow some of the eighth-grade students who have been with me on this journey the past three years to help on this project,” she said.
She went on to note that what the elementary schools decide to do with the vegetables will be entirely up to them.
“This will give us a means to make a connection with the younger students. As they start developing this at their schools, they’ll have more experience when they come to us here at CAMS,” she said.
Roughly 200 students participate in the garden project every year between the agriculture and art programs.
“We wanted them to have the chance to work outside and apply hands-on what we were learning in the classroom,” Hannah said of the original goal of the garden project. “Some of the students had not had a gardening experience prior to this. They’ve learned how to care for the plants, sustainable gardening skills, and different fruits and vegetables.”
Vegetables that have been harvested from the garden have been donated to the school cafeteria and a local food bank.
The mission of the Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom program, which is a charitable organization that was founded by the Virginia Farm Bureau, is to promote greater understanding of agriculture through education.
“This year we had an outpouring of grant applicants reflecting pre-K through 12th grade education programs from schools across the commonwealth,” Tammy Maxey, Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom senior education manager, said. “These schools and 4-H chapters will start gardens, provide nutrition and culinary experiences, begin school farms and create agriculture leadership opportunities. We look forward to visiting these grant sites and watching students learn.”
Hannah said that she hopes other local teachers will consider applying for Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom grants. She stressed that they aren’t just open to agriculture teachers.