Fairfax Co. high schoolers use garden to help food banks

A group of high school students in Fairfax County, Virginia, turned gardening into a creative response to help food banks that are seeing an increase in need.

“We’ve got lettuce, spinach, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and beans,” said Maureen Gelona, a senior at W.T. Woodson High School.

Woodson high school students grow vegetables for local food banks. (Courtesy Fairfax County Public Schools)

The student garden is in between the high school’s tennis courts and science lab wing.

“We gave some stuff to the custodians; we gave the plants to the teachers; [we’d take plants] home to our own families — we’d never donated it before,” Gelona said.

Woodson is one of four schools in a partnership with the Fairfax Food Council.

Three elementary schools — Belvedere, in Falls Church; Stratford Landing, in Alexandria; and Lynbrook, in Springfield — also participated, said Stacey Evers, the co-chair of the council’s Urban Ag Group and the staff environmental educator at Belvedere Elementary.

Both Belvedere and Woodson donate their produce to Food for Others, a non-profit based in Fairfax that helps connect families in need with food and is serving almost 4,000 families a week, up from about 1,800 before the pandemic.

Students grow lettuce, spinach, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and beans. (Courtesy Fairfax County Public Schools)

“Being out in nature is just amazing. And so doing that, while also having the knowledge that you’re helping people, is really wonderful,” Gelona said.

Cory Suter, co-chair of the urban agriculture workgroup for the Fairfax Food Council, said it’s inspiring to see students step up to help others.

“It’s so rewarding to see kids kind of want to be a part of the solution,” said Suter.

He said it’s important for school systems to educate and encourage younger generations to not only give back, but to learn about what it means to eat healthy.

“It’s about bringing people together to grow the healthy food that our bodies need,” Suter said.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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