Students cultivate vegetables and pride in community garden

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The tomatoes were ripe for the picking in the community garden planted by Oxford’s 21st Century Community Learning Center this summer. Eleventh-graders Mayra Qiuroz and Ariana Luna, along with teacher Dana Vannicola, harvested the fruits of their labor, a portion of which will be donated to the Chester County Food Bank.

OXFORD – Pride and self-sufficiency have also sprouted among the tomatoes, carrots and zucchini of Oxford’s first community garden.

Situated behind the Oxford Public Library, the garden plot consists of eight raised beds built, cultivated and cared for by members of the 21st Century Community Learning Center. With the harvest split between donations to the Chester County Food Bank and the dinner tables of participating students, support for the community garden has grown.

“Each and every day, students are out in the garden, watering the vegetables and harvesting the ripe tomatoes, zucchini and peppers,” said Bill Rose, coordinator of the 21st CCLC. “It gives them and their families a place to grow their own fresh food,” he added, noting that those students living in downtown Oxford have no room for a garden.

For Mayra Quiroz, the garden’s location is perfect. “I live close by and try to water the vegetables every day,” said the eleventh grader at Oxford Area High School.

Of the eight beds, four are designated to go to the Food Bank, two are allocated for student consumption and two are available for rent to anyone in the community. In addition to what teacher Dana Vannicola considers the “sweetest tomatoes,” the students planted carrots, basil, beets, squash, zucchini, jalapeños and a variety of other peppers.

“Initiatives like the community garden exemplify a key aspect of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which is getting students connected and really promoting community involvement so as to take advantage of the many resources that are available,” added Rose.

Made possible through grant funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Chester County Intermediate Unit opened three 21st Century Community Learning Centers to serve 7th-12th graders in southern Chester County. Pennsylvania’s primary goal for its 21st Century Community Learning Centers is to assist youth to meet state standards for core academic subjects by providing students with academic enrichment opportunities outside of school hours. Approximately 100 students in the Avon Grove and Oxford Area School Districts attended the after-school learning centers last year, and about half returned for summer programming.

Kenneth Pienkos, director of the Oxford Public Library, says he jumped at the opportunity to host the gardens on library property because it was an ideal way to engage 21st CCLC students more actively in the library’s community presence. “The library community is delighted with the results and our public engagement has exceeded all expectations!” he concluded.

According to Rose, the garden vegetables will be used at the end-of-year soccer game and parent picnic on Sunday, August 21 at New Garden Park. “We also plan to use the vegetables in our fall programming for the healthy eating activities,” he added.

For more information on Pennsylvania’s 21st CCLC, please visit http://www.21stcclc.org. For more information regarding the Chester County Intermediate Unit, please visit http://www.cciu.org.

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