Project Hope 2020 students had their sessions dropped due to COVID-19, but they are strong again to garden for another year and feed their communities.
Founded by Alcoa-based and retired food scientist Logan Hill, the program invites middle and high school students to become vegetable and fruit growers at every step of the process. These include using fault identification, math skills for breaking down rows of gardens to distribute them evenly, and scientific knowledge to understand the contents and needs of the soil.
“These kids view the benefits of failure a lot differently than they did when they started,” Hill explained. “Some were afraid of worms, but now they see them helping a garden. Now they are hugging her. “
Project Hope started its fourth year on Saturday May 1st. Most of his 2020 students attended his STEM program.
This year’s class includes Joshua Scaife, Jack Touton, Peyton Potts, Holland Harvard, Aliyah Misako, Morgan Raiford, Caleb Ford, and William Robinson.
Despite the significant impact of COVID-19 over the past year, students planted and harvested more than 49 different fruits and vegetables. They provided products to more than 14 seniors, supported a local church nutrition program, took some products home to their families, and tried many of the products in recipes developed by a master gardener.
Although the program had to be discontinued in September last year, the harvests came.
“The vegetables were still growing,” said Hill. “We had volunteers who came to harvest. Little did I know there were so many varieties until I started counting. I was blown away. “
Hill started Project Hope after some neighborhood kids asked him about his own backyard garden. He said it had become apparent that they didn’t give much thought to where the food is coming from and who is producing it.
He created the program to incorporate many STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) lessons. Sixth graders up to high school graduation are accepted into the program.
When it first hit the market, participants met on Saturday morning at Hill’s Alcoa to tend that one piece of ground. There are now two gardens at Hills and two raised beds on Franklin Street donated by the City of Alcoa.
Men in Christ / Men in Community have partnered with Hill to get Project Hope off the ground. Others who have contributed to its success include Gloria Miller, who acts as the education coordinator; Nancy Neilsen, technical coordinator; Caroline Tate, student / parent coordinator; Sandra Widmeyer; and Adriel McCord of Fist Horizon Bank, where students open savings accounts for the money they make.
The participating students receive a scholarship every month and have to save some of the money. They take care of every aspect of the garden, from design to weeding, planting, pest control, watering and harvesting. The students meet in the gardens on Saturdays.
Project Hope will continue the three growing seasons, but focus on producing more products that Hall community seniors like best – vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, squash, lettuce, sweet potatoes and melons. Now the greens are harvested and the summer fruits go into the ground.
Plant anatomy and farming skills are taught to students by master gardeners, teachers from the technical community, and hands-on volunteers.
Gloria Miller, former Alcoa Middle School team leader, began the students’ journey in 2021 with a lesson plan for STE (A) M. This is the foundation for the rest of the lessons offered every week throughout the year. This was an exciting introduction and commitment to the students.
Students have 15 to 20 minutes of gardening lesson at the start of each Saturday lesson before heading to the gardens to put their learning into action.
On Saturday, students spent the day tidying up the gardens and putting plastic borders in place to prevent weeds from growing. Next week they will be planting vegetables and removing weeds in the garden.
The session ended with the children trying a vegetable and fruit pizza made from all of the vegetables and fruits the children planted last year.
Hill is optimistic about this year’s plan. The big picture at Project Hope is to get these students interested in science so they won’t fear it in high school.
“The periodic table looks like a strange document,” he said. “But not after they recognize oxygen and hydrogen. We want them to embrace science and not fear it. That way, they can do better when they get into high school. “
This program for middle and high school students was more than enough. Community members who saw her in action now want to create raised bed gardens.
That’s just another positive result, said the founder.