Like the plants themselves, a community garden project representing a partnership between Troy University’s Montgomery Campus and Valiant Cross Academy is growing.
The project is launching a farm stand that will be located at Valiant Cross on Dexter Avenue and manned by the school’s scholars. Produce from the garden, located on the TROY Montgomery Campus, will be available for purchase at the portable stand, which was unveiled on Monday. Sale of produce will begin June 18, with the plan to continue operation each Monday from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.
The garden project began in 2017 as the result of a U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop grant. The project was intended to provide fresh produce while also increasing the nutritional knowledge of Valiant Cross scholars.
Now, that educational element will go a step further, teaching scholars about business, leadership and entrepreneurship.
“We want to teach our scholars not only to be good employees, but also to be employers. This garden project and farm stand is very important to instill the entrepreneurial spirit in our scholars, so that they know that they can own their own businesses and build them from the ground up,” said Anthony Brock, head of school. “They planted the garden, they have tended it and then this enables them to see the fruits of their labors. Hopefully this springs off into a lot of opportunities to show their imagination and creativity. We want them to one day be a major part of the economic development of their neighborhoods, Montgomery, and ultimately the world.”
Dr. Sharon Everhardt, assistant professor of sociology at TROY Montgomery and coordinator of the project, said the reasoning for adding the farm stand was two-fold.
“The farm stand provides an added dimension to the Valiant Cross curriculum in that will teach the scholars how to run a business and provide valuable lessons on leadership and entrepreneurship,” Dr. Everhardt said. “Secondly, the proceeds from the farm stand will go back into the garden project in an effort to make the program self-sufficient.”
The scholars have received training in a variety of topics related to the project.
“They have been learning about gardening, harvesting, marketing, all the ins and outs of running a business like inventory, pricing and building a mission statement. This will be their opportunity for them to take that skillset they have acquired and put it to the test,” Dr. Everhardt said. “The farm stand seemed like the logical next step. They have been working hard in the garden and this will allow them to see the payoff in the investment of their time.”
Noah Waters, an eighth grader at Valiant Cross, said he is excited about the farm stand because of the lessons it provides.
“This has been a good experience,” Waters said, noting that he had never gardened before working on the project. “I like the farm stand because it teaches you a lot of business and helps you learn about how to be an entrepreneur.”
In its second year, the garden project has grown in other ways as well.
“We have a garden president and vice president this year and have made efforts to involve parents of the Valiant Cross scholars in the project,” Dr. Everhardt said. “It has been gratifying to see the interest and participation in the project continue to grow.”
Brock said he was pleased and grateful to see the parental involvement in the project.
“It is not all about academics all of the time, it is about life skills and developing successful young men in every avenue of life,” he said. “The participation of parents is critical, and we want to thank those who have been volunteering their time to water the garden and helping to pick the produce. It means a lot for parents to be involved in the project and that support is important to the young men.”
Dr. Lance Tatum, vice chancellor of TROY’s Montgomery Campus, said the garden project had proven to be an important first step in the partnership between Valiant Cross and the University.
“I think this project had great importance in establishing that early relationship between Troy University and Valiant Cross,” Dr. Tatum said. “I think what we have to expand on is depth of these opportunities. Having Valiant Cross on the Montgomery Campus is great, but we are looking for more than just a tenant relationship. We are looking for an integration in what we do as a University. The College of Education is already has been very active in looking for ways they can connect their teacher education program with what Valiant Cross Academy is doing. The garden project was a great starter for us, but I think we can look forward to a lot more to come in the future.”