West Virginia State University 4-H Program Inspiring Young Gardeners at Raleigh County Schools

INSTITUTE, WV (WOAY)- A 4-H program by West Virginia State University (WVSU) Extension Service is inspiring a generation of young gardeners to design, develop, tend and harvest their own school gardens and fruit tree orchards at three Raleigh County schools.

Through WVSU’s Sowing Young Sprouts program, 4-H Extension Agent Tiffany Ward teaches kids about garden design, construction, planting, care, maintenance, harvest, and even selling their crops. School gardens are constructed with the students, who truly learn by doing, with the ultimate goal of providing the knowledge, skill and confidence for students to be able to grow their own food with their families.

Participants also have a direct hand in what gets planted. Two fourth graders at Crescent Elementary School in Beckley found a creative way to bring to fruition their idea for an apple tree orchard.

“As I always do when I enter a new school, I asked the kids what they would like to grow,” Ward said. “They wanted trees, so they wrote a letter to the principal, building their case for planting a small orchard on the school property.”

Dear Ms. Lewis, the letter read, we would like to plant a dwarf apple tree, because if kids are still hungry, they can grab something to eat…

According to Ward, the students placed the letter in an official, sealed envelope and formally presented it to the principal, who loved the idea – and the creative ask – and the project moved forward.

This spring, Ward planted six apple trees in the school’s landscape, adding additional value to a school and a community whose students face high levels of poverty and food insecurity.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ward wasn’t able use the tree planting as a teaching and learning activity with the students, noting also that distance learning has impacted the use of the orchard and the other gardens built at schools in the Sowing Young Sprouts program.

“The pandemic has understandably slowed progress on using the gardens and the new orchard as teaching and hands-on learning tools,” Ward said, “but once in-person learning resumes, and we’re able to be together safely, these spaces will be ripe for teaching and learning.”

In addition to Crescent Elementary School, Ward has also brought Sowing Young Sprouts to Cranberry Elementary School and the Shady Spring Public Library in Raleigh County. The program is funded by a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Children, Youth and Families At-Risk Grant, Award 2016-41520-25579.