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Staunton, Augusta County high schoolers complete ag leadership program

Randi B. Hagi
From left: director of education Nichole Barrows; youth leaders Katie Weaver, Rosie Clark, Kiersten Collins, and Bailey Hughes; farm educator Robert Clemmer; and education fellow Kenzie Ballard kneeling.

A nonprofit, educational farm outside of Staunton recently wrapped up its Youth Leadership in Agriculture program for the summer. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

[sound of group walking, talking]

At the Project GROWS farm on Tuesday afternoon, youth leaders Kiersten Collins and Katie Weaver gave a tour of what they'd been up to for the past two months. First up were the high tunnels.

Randi B. Hagi
Sungold tomatoes ripen on vines interplanted with basil, marigolds, and nasturtiums.

KIERSTEN COLLINS: We're growing sungold tomatoes right here. If you want to go pick any, you could. They are really good.

Then we saw the greenhouse. Weaver demonstrated a soil-cutting tool.

[sound of fans, metal tool]

KATIE WEAVER: You stick it down in moist soil and then you press down, and that will – you can kind of see – push the soil out into those blocks.

These teens were two of five participants of the Youth Leadership in Agriculture program – a career-building initiative that teaches high school students and recent graduates skills in farming, leadership, and entrepreneurship. The produce they grew was sold at the organization's farmstand and local farmer's markets, and distributed to Staunton city schools and the health department.

Randi B. Hagi
Kiersten Collins descends 'the mountain.'

Bailey Hughes, a rising senior at Staunton High School, wanted to work on the farm because –

BAILEY HUGHES: I just love being outdoors. I ride horses, kayak, hike – I just love being outside.

Rosie Clark just graduated from Fort Defiance High School. This was her second summer in the program.

ROSIE CLARK: I just love growing stuff, and the connections I get to make with the big world with this little farm and this job.

All the youth leaders were excited to show off 'the mountain' – a giant mound of earth they built up with terraced stairs and a rope to rappel down. Its main function is to be played on by the young kids who come to summer camps on the farm.

HUGHES: It was a lot of hard work but it was also like, we made the mountain and stuff and got to climb it! … So cool.

Project GROWS also offers an academic class to Staunton High School students in the fall and spring.

Randi B. Hagi
The sunflower labyrinth.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.