By Brandon Martin
Students at Bassett High School soon will have the opportunity to share the fruits of their labors with the community through a new project called The Bengal’s Community Garden.
The school is partnering with the Community Storehouse, which means that not only will the students learn about agriculture and horticulture, but they also may make a difference to families in need.
Jasmine Thompson, horticulture instructor at the school, said food insecurity has only increased during the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created many hardships for people in our community, having the resources to put food on the table is one,” Thompson said. “A community giving garden is created to grow and distribute fresh produce to food banks and community shelters. You can typically find these types of gardens at schools, churches, and even back yards. Having a project such as The Bengal’s Community Garden is important because it not only teaches our students the importance of giving back to the community, but it helps combat the hunger issues in our area.”
After recognizing the growing need, Thompson said the school applied to the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom for a grant which is funding the new garden.
While Thompson is leading the effort, most of the work will be completed by the students themselves.
Thompson said that the school’s horticulture program began in 2018 to expand educational opportunities for students in Henry County.
In total, the program has 92 students enrolled for the 2020-2021 school year, but only about half of that number are enrolled for the current semester.
Through the class, students will be exposed to a variety of gardening principles.
“Students have already learned how to build the raised beds out of lumber. Within the next few weeks, students will get their hands dirty even more. They will sow the seeds and take care of them as they grow,” Thompson said. “They will learn the growing cycle of various vegetables, how and when to fertilize, how to treat plant diseases and how to harvest the crops. They will also learn, after the harvest, how to care for and proper handling procedures of the bounty.”
All of these lessons will be taught from inside the three 4’x8’ raised garden beds that the students completed on March 5. Thompson said she enlisted the help of two Future Farmers of America (FFA) officers ━ Lane Bailey, a junior, and Samantha Wall, a sophomore ━ and Summer Zuniga, a 10th grade horticulture student.
“Students started by outlining where they wanted the beds to be. Then, they put down a landscape cloth to aid in weed reduction,” Thompson said. “Finally, they prepped the beds by putting in a mix of soil. It is my hope that as the Bassett Horticulture program continues to grow, we can expand this project to include many more beds. We would like to be able to grow and donate as much as possible to give back to our community.”
Thompson said the class helps educate students on the behind-the-scenes work to put food on the table.
“This is important for students to learn because as the years go by, the disconnect between the farm and the table grows wider,” Thompson said. “If you ask someone where they got their corn, chances are their answer might be Kroger. It can be hard to realize where your food is coming from, especially as a student. This project aims to close the gap between the process from farm to table; not only with our students but community members.”
Thompson said students will work in the garden at various times through the week. They will be responsible for planting the seeds, watering the garden daily, and performing routine checks on the crops for possible insect or disease issues.
When it’s all said and done, students will hopefully have a bountiful harvest of lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, and corn.
“We are excited to see how many pounds we produce with this harvest,” Thompson said. “We hope to expand this project in the coming years. It is our goal to have a fall and spring harvest in the future.”
This could provide a valuable resource for the Community Storehouse.
Travis Adkins, director of the Community Storehouse, “explained that they receive so many donations throughout the year which is amazing; however, little is fresh produce,” Thompson said. “He said that it is like Christmas when people can come in and get fresh foods. We are so happy and excited to share our harvest with the community and have the students learn more about horticulture along the way.”
The project is another way that some students have taken an active role in feeding the community.
“During FFA (Future Farmers of America) Week in February, we received a grant from the National FFA to create care packages for the local nursing home,” Thompson said. “We were able to provide 50 care packages for nursing home residents at Stanleytown Rehabilitation. Each care package also received a written note by students wishing them well.”
Given the impact of agriculture on society, Thompson said the study deserves more attention.
“We would be nowhere without this industry. It is important that horticulture is taught so that students realize why this industry is the backbone of our society. Without the fruits and labors that this field provides, we would have a drastically altered existence,” Thompson said. “There is a common misconception that agriculture is all ‘plows and cows’ where that simply is not the case.”
Thompson said agricultural education is broken down into three sections: classroom instruction, FFA, and supervised agricultural experiences.
“The FFA is an organization that not only teaches students about agriculture, but prepares them for premier leadership, personal growth and career success,” Thompson said. “Being enrolled in horticulture gives students the opportunity to learn career readiness skills for any career pathway before they leave the classroom.”
Thompson said students compete locally, regionally, statewide, and nationally. Students also have an opportunity to win scholarships and meet with legislators.
“The horticulture program has only been at Bassett High School for three years,” Thompson said. “I am so excited to grow this program on this side of the county by implementing the FFA Motto, ‘Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, and Living to Serve.’”
To track the students’ progress in the garden, follow them on Facebook at Bassett High Horticulture or on Instagram at bassett_ffa.