Colonial Soil and Water Conservation District, Virginia

The goal of the Colonial SWCD project was to introduce a hands-on, project-based learning opportunity via urban agriculture at a local high school in Williamsburg. To do this, the district partnered with Warhill High School and local nonprofit Williamsburg Community Growers (WCG) to develop an interactive outdoor learning space, later named the Warhill Pride Garden. The space includes a traditional row crop garden, raised beds, a solar-powered irrigation system and an educational walking tour. The district and WCG share a goal of educating the public about sustainable agriculture and conservation, and they recognized the lack of agricultural education opportunities at most local schools.

Students in Warhill’s “Nature of Man” course split into several teams, outlined below, to work on planning and building each component of the garden. A group devoted to fundraising and grant writing to raise money for these projects was also created. Various volunteers and local experts assisted in advising and mentoring each group.

  • Agricultural Engineering Team: Developed and installed solar-powered irrigation system
  • Education Team: Developed educational walking tour and subsequent talking points for each station along the tour, assisted with planting plans for the row crop garden and raised beds
  • Farm to Community Team: Created recipes for produce grown on-site, assisted with cafeteria produce delivery, and helped choose plants for the garden and raised beds
  • Fundraising/Outreach Team: Planned and executed a t-shirt fundraiser, created a website and social media pages for the project, assisted with grant preparation

Students work on installing the drip line irrigation system after planting seedlings donated by Lowe’s

Throughout the year, students were involved in all aspects of project development, from researching project possibilities, creating proposals and developing material lists and budgets to completing physical construction and maintenance of the site. The ability to fully follow through on these projects was a fantastic learning experience for the students. They not only learned about agriculture and conservation, but also how to manage their time and budgets, and troubleshoot issues as they arose. At the end of the school year, the class hosted a community night to show off their hard work and demonstrate the sustainable agricultural principles they learned.

Overall, the district, WCG and students and faculty at Warhill High School created a successful endeavor developing agricultural real-world learning opportunities. Many of the students had never worked in a garden before, almost none of them had ever worked with solar panels, and many were nervous about presenting a walking tour of their site, but by the end of the year, each student seemed comfortable and confident in their projects.

Sustainability

A student shows off his soil core while taking samples to determine soil nutrient needs

The garden is now in its second year and a new class of students are taking on their own projects to continue to improve the site.

Throughout the grant period, several small grants were submitted to support individual project needs for each student group. Students also hosted a t-shirt fundraiser that raised several hundred dollars to continue to support the garden. These fundraising efforts, along with important partnerships with businesses and organizations in the surrounding community, have been vital to the continuation of this project. As the project continues into its second year, several grants have been submitted to continue to fund the students’ projects, and another student-led fundraiser is being planned.

While it can be difficult to keep school faculty and administrators engaged and supportive of these projects after secured funding has run out, the district is encouraged by the arrival of a new teacher with an agricultural education background to help run the program. The new teacher is passionate about using urban agriculture as a teaching tool and was drawn to the position partially because of the garden and its possibilities. The teacher’s role is integral, as it ensures the continuation of the project while allowing the district to engage with new schools and continue to support urban agriculture efforts.

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