by Kate Evans
Several separate efforts to encourage gardening and healthy eating in Morgan County have put down roots and grown with a wider community vision this spring.
Local agencies and students have joined together to work with families and young people to teach the strategies, benefits and joys of gardening. They started with seeds and progressed to making box gardens and planting at people’s houses.
The projects have included the Warm Springs Intermediate School high tunnel greenhouse, the Berkeley Springs High School raised beds, the Early Head Start garden at Great Cacapon Elementary and lasagna box gardens at several homes in Paw Paw.
Morgan County Extension Office health educator Amie Tutor, Lisa Fulton-EPIC Early Head Start home visitor, Tina Badley-Starting Points program coordinator, Lacee Kidwell-Morgan County Partnership social worker, Garret Oursler- Berkeley Springs High School Science National Honor Society member and Serenity McGowan- Berkeley Springs High School Future Farmers of America (FFA) president have worked together on the projects.
Tutor signed up families for free seeds under the Grow This! West Virginia Garden Challenge, a state-wide campaign through the West Virginia University Extension Office Family Nutrition Program to get more people growing food. She had 183 people in Morgan County participating.
The Grow This! crops included sugar snap peas, butternut squash, tomatoes and microgreens-baby plants like beets, spinach and kale. With microgreens, you plant the seeds really close together and eat the first sprouts that come up, Tutor said. Grow This! WV is in its third year. The program has been picked up by other states.
Lasagna garden boxes
Tina Badley, who leads the Starting Points Cheap Eats program, talked to Tutor about getting Extension Office gardening calendars and how they could get families some support to grow food. With the pandemic closings, Badley and Tutor discussed ways they could do things outside and supply families with plants.
Tutor was helping to deliver food to Paw Paw and Badley felt sure they could grow food in the banana boxes that carried the food deliveries.
“We hoped we could teach people how to garden and be more food secure,” Tutor said.
They provided families in the Paw Paw and Pleasant View areas with seeds and planting boxes to decorate with contests and a gift certificate for the best box, Badley said.
The group decided to pursue starting gardens at people’s homes, Badley said. She wanted to teach families the no-till, no-weeding layered method of lasagna gardening in boxes.
Tutor had been working with kindergarten teacher Adam Keeling to start a garden at Paw Paw Schools. Keeling and high school science teacher Megan Bradfield recommended Paw Paw families that would benefit from having a garden at home.
Glascock Produce, Joyce Morningstar’s Star Eagle Garden, Blox Daugherty, other plant businesses and community members donated plants for the family gardens as well as the intermediate school greenhouse, the Early Head Start garden and the high school raised beds, Tutor said.
Banana boxes were delivered to family homes along with acrylic paint so kids could paint the garden boxes first,
she said. Parents learned about site work and water sources and asked if deer were a problem.
The no-till lasagna family garden boxes were prepared with layers of mulch, greens or vegetable peels, leaves, composted manure and topsoil. Families picked out the seeds and plants that were planted in their garden boxes. Four families completed their box garden.
Tutor said the hope is to expand the home garden program into other parts of the county, and to add two more family gardens before the end of June.
The intermediate school garden is completely planted with tomatoes, green beans, yellow squash, kale, peppers, pumpkins and pollinators such as zinnias and will have a hydroponic unit, Tutor said. Science National Honor Society students will be involved year-round.
The raised beds at Berkeley Springs High School are planted in kale and tomatoes.
Lisa Fulton and Karen Mulholland planted the Early Head Start garden in Great Cacapon with tomatoes, rainbow cherry tomatoes, yellow squash, green zucchini, peppers and kale.
Tutor, Badley, Fulton, Kidwell and the students all connected through the Extension Office, Starting Points and other local resources. Fulton’s daughter Lacee Kidwell was happy to help with the high school raised beds because she can see them from her Morgan County Partnership office window.
Early Head Start
Fulton said that they’d done the Early Head Start garden for several years and revamped it, putting things down to keep the weeds out. Fulton does Cheap Eats together with Badley at Great Cacapon Elementary and Badley had reached out to her about the no-dig, no-weed gardens. Early Head Start is a home-based program and parents come to the center two to three times a month.
Most of their families rent and can’t put in a garden but they can have a box garden on their porch or out in the yard, Fulton said. Fulton’s favorite thing is to watch the kids pick the harvest and eat it. For some young parents it’s the first time they’ve ever grown their own food, she noted.
High school students
Tutor said that high school students Garrett Oursler, Serenity McGowan and Jackson Heath would be involved in companion crops, soil testing and planting. Oursler planted some crops with students at the intermediate school greenhouse this spring before schools closed from the pandemic.
After getting the raised beds going at Berkeley Springs High School, FFA wants to start plants at the high school greenhouse this school year, Fulton said. Fulton really wants to see the students take the gardening efforts on and sustain them.
Group members have rotated watering the plants at the different locations. They want to start canning lessons this summer on how to preserve foods. Fulton hopes they’ll find grants to keep the gardening projects going every summer.
“It’s been a bright light with all the negativity and uncertainty in the world. It’s a great child-adult interaction,” Fulton said.
Badley said the group is considering putting in raised beds at the senior center so next year they’ll be able to start a garden there.
Badley said she wants to see everyone have a garden. It’s a positive thing and the no-dig, no-weed method is great. Watching kids enjoying planting, gardening and interacting is wonderful too.
The group is working on grants to continue their community gardening efforts.
If people would like to contribute, they can send a donation to Gardens for the People Project, Morgan County Starting Points, 106 Sand Mine Road, Suite 6, Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, 25411.