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Food Pantries Benefit From Fairfax Student-Grown Produce

Patch logo Patch 1 day ago Emily Leayman
a group of people that are standing in the grass: Master Gardener Tony Makara and Woodson Environmental Club adviser Lauren Kinne help students garden produce to be donated to Food for Others, a food assistance organization in Fairfax County. © FCPS Office of Communications and Community Relations Master Gardener Tony Makara and Woodson Environmental Club adviser Lauren Kinne help students garden produce to be donated to Food for Others, a food assistance organization in Fairfax County.

FAIRFAX, VA — Between the tennis courts and science lab at Woodson High School, school garden plots growing are located. Practicing gardening skills isn't just a hobby of the students. The produce grown in the garden plots will end up on the plates of local families in need.

Woodson High School's Environmental Club is honing students' skills to grow and donate produce to Food for Others, a Fairfax County-based organization providing food assistance to families in need. Woodson is one of four schools that had a partnership with the Fairfax Food Council this year, according to a FCPS blog post. Other participating schools are Stratford Landing Elementary in Fort Hunt, Belvedere Elementary in the Falls Church area, and Lynbrook Elementary in Springfield.

Four other Fairfax County schools — Justice High School, Beech Tree Elementary School and Timber Lane Elementary School in Falls Church, and Mason Crest Elementary in Annandale — grew produce through a separate partnership called Grow a Row.

Woodson High School students jumped into actions after seeing a large spike in demand at local food pantries at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Food for Others serves approximately 3,500 to 4,000 families a week in Northern Virginia, up from around 1,800 families a week before the pandemic, according to executive director Annie Turner. Belvedere Elementary is also donating produce to Food for Others.

"Many partners weren’t able to bring food anymore. Restaurants were closed, farmers were struggling," said Stacey Evers, Fairfax Food Council’s Urban Ag Group co-chair and a Belvedere Elementary staff environmental educator, in a FCPS blog post. "I think we have almost 100 schools with a garden – so we said let’s see if we can boost production at some of them."

Woodson students prepared, designed and planted the garden in March and have donated six pounds of spinach, rainbow chard, and lettuce. Future harvests will include squash, cucumber, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and beans.

"The link between improved mental health and being in nature is real," said Woodson's Environmental Club adviser Lauren Kinne in the blog post. "They were also able to safely work on a group activity during the pandemic: they could socially distance by tending to separate garden beds, being outdoors, wearing masks and give back to the community at the same time."

Victoria Caswell, a Woodson junior, noted that a slowdown in school activities during the pandemic presented the chance to work on gardening skills for community service.

"I thought it was a good chance for me to get outside and do something to help," Caswell said.

Belvedere Elementary has also donated 51.5 pounds of produce, including carrots, kale, collards, radishes, spinach, and potatoes.

Turner said the produce from the school gardens has made a difference to boosting available produce. It has also raised awareness in the region about the concern of food scarcity.

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