Now in its fourth year, Project GROWS has grown quite a bit itself since it was first established as a Healthy Communities Action Team (HCAT) with funding from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth and Augusta Health.
Last year the Augusta County nonprofit farm reaped a crop of 20,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables, largely cultivated with the help of 1,200 kids from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Waynesboro, Staunton & Augusta, who learned how to plant, harvest and cook vegetables from Project GROWS. The 10-acre farm, which is located outside of Staunton, grows a wide variety of crops, ranging from apples, blackberries and pears to lettuce, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and squash. Chef Laura Bon Cash teaches the children how to prepare healthy dishes such as salads.
"The kids get really excited to help with the cooking," says Jenna Clarke, director of operations for Project GROWS.
So far, Project GROWS has planted three acres of crops and is working on adding other features to the farm such as exercise trails. Half the food grown by Project GROWS is donated to the community, either via contributions to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank or via dinners served to volunteers and Boys & Girls Clubs participants. The nonprofit sells the other part of its crop in an effort to build sustainability.
Project GROWS also took over management of the North Augusta Farmers' Market in 2014 and the Waynesboro Farmers' Market in 2015. “We’re hoping to use it as a platform for food access and promoting health and nutrition,” Clarke says.
"The project was kicked off by grants from VFHY and Augusta Health. We really couldn’t have started without that initial support. It was crucial and now we’ve come so far."