WOOD RIVER JCT. — On Monday and Wednesdays at 6 p.m., a group of Chariho students, with guidance from middle school science teacher Dan Potts, work in the vegetable garden at the turf farm across the street from the school. Produce from the Kids Grow garden has been donated to local food banks for 23 years.

Students arrived in the Chariho Tech parking lot on Monday evening, grabbed tomato cages and hoes and set off across the road to the turf farm where the 1/2-acre plot is located.

Potts takes attendance at the beginning of each session, because the volunteer hours will count toward the required community service component of the students’ high school graduation portfolios.

Evan Roberts, who will enter ninth trade in the fall, is volunteering for a second summer.

“It’s a good-sized garden,” he said. “It’s mainly consisted with the tomatoes and stuff, but we’ll switch it up some years with cucumber to eggplant.”

Most of the student volunteers are in eighth and ninth grade but some juniors also work in the garden.

The growing begins in February when the students start the seeds in the Chariho greenhouse. Potts explained that the all produce is grown from free seeds distributed each year at the University of Rhode Island.

“We get all of our seeds from URI’s Master Gardener program,” he said. “We just take whatever tomatoes we get and that’s what we plant. We have green peppers, we have a little bit of eggplant, we have cucumbers, zucchini, summer yellow squash and we just put some fall squash in the fenced area. I think the rabbits have already taken most of our beans.”

The garden is supported in other ways by members of the community.

Cow manure to feed the soil is donated by Francis and Rita Kenyon of Meadowburg dairy farm and Peter Haberek comes by with his tractor to till it under. The land for the garden, originally donated by Tuckahoe Turf, is now owned by the Delea sod farm which also supports the garden.

“They were more than happy to let us continue to use the property and provide us with water through the summer,” Potts said. “They run a six-inch water pipe and on top of that water pipe, there’s a faucet so we can hook up our hoses whenever they’re pumping water on this side of the road.”

At the far end of the garden, Cassidy Girasole and Morgan DeSaro were installing tomato cages and hoeing weeds.

Girasole said she liked being able to earn community  service hours.

It’s good for hours for high school and it’s just something for me to do,” she said. 

DeSaro conceded that the garden did face certain ongoing challenges.

“Rabbits especially, because they can get under the fence and they’ll definitely eat the plants every year, and maybe just deer, or not enough rain in a week,” she said. 

Will Steere, who, like the other students, is volunteering for a second season, said he particularly enjoyed the planting and harvesting.

“I like the planting part of it, and then the picking and seeing how the vegetables and the produce really come about,” he said. “The origins of all the vegetables, this is where it all comes from and it’s really cool.”

Potts said the Kids Grow garden, which recently received a community service award from the Richmond Grange, was a great way for students to contribute to their community. Produce from this year's garden will be donated to RICAN.

“Kids understand that people are in need and we have an opportunity to give back to those people that need a little help," he said. "I do very little other than tell them what to do.”

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