From sky to farm to table

Around Rappahannock County High School, rainy days will take on a whole new meaning.

Earlier this month, RCHS’ Farm-to-Table program was awarded the Lowe’s Toolbox for Education Grant – $5,000 to put towards the construction of a rainwater catchment system, said F2T program director Jen Rattigan. This is Farm-to-Table’s second Lowe’s grant, and fourth grant award of the current academic year.

RCHS senior Haley Klein stands in several inches of rainwater, which will soon be regularly collected by a water cistern and used to irrigate the Farm-to-Table program’s crops in the event of a power outage. Courtesy photo.
RCHS senior Haley Klein stands in several inches of rainwater, which will soon be regularly collected by a water cistern and used to irrigate the Farm-to-Table program’s crops in the event of a power outage. Courtesy photo.

Heading up the project, Rattigan said Farm-to-Table plans to collect the rainwater in a place on the school’s property where inches of standing water puddle-up every rainstorm. Director of the program for more than a year now, and after weathering Hurricane Sandy and late-winter snows that took out power and left plants high, dry and neglected, Rattigan saw the need to install an irrigational backup plan for the school’s garden in case the power went off again.

“Situated outside the high school biology classroom and greenhouse, our rainwater cistern will demonstrate the value of recycling and the basic engineering principles that support the environment while benefiting the school,” Rattigan said, explaining that both students and plants will benefit from a catchment system.

Co-run by the Headwaters Foundation and Rappahannock Public Schools, the multiple grant-winning F2T program is no stranger to “mutualism,” the technical term for the biological relationship in which two-organisms of a different species benefit.

The school’s agricultural mechanics class will help build the rain-catching cistern, the school’s gardening class will use the water to learn more about irrigation and farming techniques, and the plants will be delivered healthy, un-chlorinated water that results in stronger, healthier seedlings, Rattigan said.

At the same time, F2T elementary students will be using another $2,500 from another Lowe’s Toolbox for Education to plant small fruits and nut trees that are acclimated to the Virginia area. So far, the students have mapped out the orchard while parent volunteers have signed up to till the soil. Planting will begin around fall with a successful harvest hopefully transpiring in spring 2014.

Hoping the hands-on projects will expose the kids to healthier foods options, Rattigan hopes the kids will begin choosing healthily grown food because it tastes better, not just because it is good for them.

“I’m excited about the [orchard] project because the food that kids will be able to grow will be within arm’s length,” Rattigan said, “and that’s as far as those berries need to travel.”

RCHS participants will begin the planning stages of the rainwater catchment project this summer and construction of the system is set for fall.

To donate Farm to Table, contact the Headwaters Foundation at 540-987-3322. For more information or to volunteer, email Rattigan at farm2table@headwatersfdn.org.

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