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Little Sprouts Grow Big Community Garden

(Left to right) Keniyah Brown, Gerkyhia Walker and Alexis Cook have fun tending their garden at Woodlawn Learning Center in Hopewell, Va.

(Left to right) Keniyah Brown, Gerkyhia Walker and Alexis Cook have fun tending their garden at Woodlawn Learning Center in Hopewell, Va.

“How does your garden grow?” is more than just a nursery rhyme for preschoolers at Woodlawn Learning Center in Hopewell, Virginia. The three- and four-year olds are learning about growing food and eating healthy by tending their own garden with help from a host of parents, teachers and other volunteers.

This idea germinated with Principal Belinda Piercy, who grew up on a farm and promised herself that she would maintain a connection with the land. It began to flower when she applied for the first of four $500 mini-grants from the South Centré Corridors Resource Conservation & Development Council.

The Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) program helps communities plan and carry out projects that increase natural resources conservation, support economic development and enhance the local environment and standard of living through local RC&D councils. The RC&D program is administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

The first year at the Woodlawn Learning Center, the children planted seeds in milk cartons and read stories about vegetable and flower gardening. The next season, the project expanded to outdoor container gardens using discounted seed purchased through a local company.

In year three, Virginia State University (VSU) donated an 8’ X 20” special growing box and soil for the 300 preschoolers to use in planting vegetables and flowers in a gated inner courtyard. The harvested lettuce was used to make salads, and an Extension agent from VSU taught the students about nutrition.

That project was recognized nationally with the 2010 Outstanding RC&D Project with Youth Involvement award from the National Association of RC&D Councils (after winning at the state and regional levels). Piercy traveled to Washington, DC on February 14 to accept the accolade from Leonard Jordan, Natural Resources Conservation Service Regional Conservationist – East.

Now in its fourth year, the garden is still growing. On April 2, VSU Cooperative Extension and soldiers from nearby Fort Lee will help lay out raised beds for each classroom as well as one for local residents’ use. Piercy also contacted the Hopewell Redevelopment and Housing Authority to invite area seniors to participate in the garden.

The Woodlawn Learning Center kids love to watch their garden grow and share that experience with their parents. With a little grant from the South Centré Corridors RC&D, those sprouts have now encompassed a whole community.

For more information about the Resource Conservation & Development Program, please visit our website.

Check out more conservation stories on the USDA blog.

Follow NRCS on Twitter.

RaNiah Jones (left) and Taleeq Tate take a break from planting vegetables in their garden at the Woodlawn Learning Center in Hopewell, Va.

RaNiah Jones (left) and Taleeq Tate take a break from planting vegetables in their garden at the Woodlawn Learning Center in Hopewell, Va.

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