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Middle school's garden grows along with community involvement

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Robbie Hodgson, 14 of Winchester, waters plants in the garden at Signal Knob Middle School in Strasburg on Thursday. An innovative solar powered water pump can be seen in the background. Kim Walter/Daily

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Forrest Payne, who was part of the garden's inception, describes watering methods to Shane Yuhasse, 13 of Warren County, and Sarah West, 17 of Frederick County, at Signal Knob Middle School in Strasburg on Thursday. Kim Walter/Daily

By Kim Walter -- kwalter@nvdaily.com

STRASBURG -- Just four weeks after the restoration of the garden at Signal Knob Middle School, school and community groups alike are reaping the benefits.

Agriculture science teacher at the middle school, Jackie Roller, asked for the garden so her students could have a hands-on experience on campus. Her students, members of Future Farmers of America in Shenandoah County and volunteers have now made the garden valuable as flowers and other "added-value products" can be seen growing.

Tomatoes, peppers, corn and herbs are among the produce items being grown, as wells as some flowers.

Jeff Taylor and Forrest Payne work closely with the county's FFA and agriculture classes, and view the garden as having numerous possibilities.

"Farming is the backbone of America," Taylor said. "Farms are being lost, and the children need to be taught how to help themselves."

There are plans to create salsa from the produce, which will be auctioned off locally. The proceeds will go toward funding groups like FFA or any other program that supports agritourism efforts in the county. The salsa will be the first product that is grown and made at the school.

"It's amazing when you see that spark go off in a kid's mind," Payne said. "They realize they can make valuable products right at home ... everyone's got to eat."

Along with the produce, other innovative ideas have been implemented in the garden that help teach conservation and environment control.

"Solar panels have been installed to compensate for no electricity in the garden. Water is pumped through irrigation lines," Roller commented. Water conservation is also demonstrated in the garden through use of a rain barrel. The initiatives also help to save money.

"I love seeing the students have hands-on experiences and realize there are various methods to modern gardening," she said.

The impact of the garden is even reaching outside Shenandoah County. Christian Plaugher, a student at the middle school, conducted an experiment involving the effects of different soils on tomato plants. He took his findings to the state FFA competition and conference in Blacksburg, which took place this week.

Local 4-H campers will also utilize the garden, and currently participants in the Blue Ridge Environmental Governor's School summer program are incorporating the garden into their focus on sustainability and electrical waste. The program hosts youth from Clarke, Frederick, Warren, Page and Shenandoah counties.

Taylor hopes to educate children through the "seed to sale" project, which will allow students to not only plant and grow products, but also learn their market and how to appeal to buyers.

"It's just such a teaching tool, and it not only gets the kids excited, but it keeps them interested," he said.

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