WINCHESTER — A new community garden is already yielding produce, but it needs more volunteers to keep it growing.

The project — called the Growing Community garden — is an initiative of Valley Health with agricultural expertise provided by James Wood High School students on garden plots at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley (MSV).

The garden was the idea of Susan Lessar, a dietitian with Valley Health, and Jessica Watson, director of Valley Health’s Chronic Disease Center. The center’s staff works with patients who have diabetes, heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — diseases that can be made worse from unhealthy eating habits.

With 17.5 percent of Virginians without easy access to affordable food, starting a garden to benefit local residents seemed a wise move, Lessar said.

The initial thought was to create the garden on land near Winchester Medical Center.

“We looked at all the community gardens in the area,” said Watson. “With the idea of looking at how we can help our patients eat healthier.”

But before plowing up land on Valley Health property, the women wanted to make sure there was enough interest from the community to keep a garden going year after year.

The MSV site is filled with beautiful gardens, so offering plots for a worthy project was a natural fit.

“We are always interested in being a community partner,” said Julie Armel, the MSV’s deputy director for community relations.

The James Wood agriculture students were recruited to do the initial plantings, paid for by a $1,500 Living to Serve grant from the FFA.

The students started cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, radishes, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers and spinach in the school’s greenhouse.

“I think it’s awesome,” said agriculture teacher Ginger Anderson. “Gardening is definitely a skill that’s lifelong.”

Anderson brought 32 of her students on four different field trips to the MSV to get the plants in the ground.

A new scholarship provided by Valley Health will pay for a James Wood High School student to serve as the garden manager over the summer.

Tiffany Roby, a junior at James Wood High School, will take care of the weeding and harvesting as well as recruiting fellow students to help her out.

“Horticulture class is probably my favorite thing about school,” Tiffany said as she looked over the plots filled with tiny plants.

The produce will be used for cooking demonstrations given by Valley Health nutritionists. The food will also be given to any community volunteers.

The hard work of the students is a good start, but more hands are needed if the garden is to thrive long-term.


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