School Garden Project Highlighted in Local Paper

This week’s local newspaper, The Recorder, features the work of Local Foods Coordinator Jessa Fowler in Highland County Public Schools. Read the full article below.

Highland students learn to grow food


Kathryn Ancarrow and Andrea Hull direct-seeded spinach, carrots and peas. Photos by John Bruce.

MONTEREY — In an era of Furby robotic toys and Wii gamepads, students of Highland schools are earning their green thumbs, thanks to a new partnership aimed at teaching them how to raise produce.

That’s right — vegetables.

The soon-to-be-named project is coordinated by Jessa Fowler, foods coordinator for The Highland Center.

The project is a partnership between The Highland Center, Highland 4-H and Highland County Public Schools. Fowler is working closely with Virginia Cooperative Extension technician Paxton Grant, 4-H agent Kari Sponaugle and Highland school grants writer Sarah Harman.

Superintendent Dr. William Crawford praised the project as “a great opportunity for our students to apply what is discussed in class.

“Learning by doing is authentic, or real, learning.” Crawford said. “Kids, like adults, will be excited to show and share what they grow.”

Fowler assists student Foundations of Agriculture student Noah Arnott.

So far, project contributors have included:

• Highland 4-H Council, $250 for raised bed construction, potting soil and more;

• High Mowing Organic Seeds, 50 seed packets;

• Thrive Farm, topsoil;

• Highland Garden Club;

• Mary Beth Gutshall, paint for the green- house exterior, and

• The Highland Center.

The school board has approved installing four raised beds near the apple trees behind the elementary school. A groundbreaking ceremony is set for May 9 at 11:45 a.m.

Fowler, Sponaugle and Grant have taught about 50 students in pre-K, kindergarten, first and third grades how to start seeds and plant over the past three weeks. They plan to transplant the starts into the elementary school’s raised beds in mid-May. Fowler will be coordinating care and upkeep this summer.

In the high school, Fowler began teaching 15 students as a substitute for Steve Heavner’s fundamentals of agriculture class while he recovers from hip surgery.

Senior 4-H club members kicked off their greenhouse restoration project with a cleanup day on April 6. Ag students have since patched holes, removed trash and built two raised beds inside the greenhouse.

“The resurrection of the greenhouse is under way,” senior Evan Vaus wrote in a school news release of the long-neglected structure, believed to be decades old.

Evan Vaus stands by a raised bed that he helped build.

He and classmate Ethan Botkin crafted raised beds out of scrap lumber from the school.

Harman and Fowler are awaiting grant money that, if approved, would go toward repairing the greenhouse heater. Mean- while, the raised beds will create a passivesolar system to extend the growing season, Fowler explained.

“The students have learned about seed starting and basic biology,” Fowler said. “We have started a variety of plants that are growing well.”

Food grown from the project will go to the cafeteria or farmers’ market, Fowler said.

Fowler and Sponaugle have taught about 35 students in the middle school and high school 4-H clubs how to start seeds.

“We did a seed starting process,” eighth grader Breanna Judy said. “Each person started a six pack of seeds and watered them daily. We did it to grow healthy, fresh food.”

As local foods coordinator, Fowler said she enjoys the potential to work with schools, producers, The Highland Center and the larger community. The daughter of a pastor and a professor, she grew up in Lake City, Colo., so she is familiar with the closest stoplight being an hour away.

Fowler is a fellow of the Allegheny Mountain School, a program of The Highland Center. Allegheny Mountain School is a not-for-profit experiential fellowship program designed to serve the region’s communities in developing a more secure food system.

Fowler said the project is in need of garden tools, and volunteers may be needed over the summer. To contribute or to ask about the project, e-mail Fowler at or call (540) 468-1922.

“We’re starting small and making sure we do everything correctly,” Fowler said. “We don’t want the project to grow so fast that it is not sustainable.”


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