NEW GARDEN—Those living at or below the poverty line in southern Chester County are getting help from an unexpected segment of the population -- students at Kennett Middle School.

So far this year, the students have donated 265 pounds of produce to the Kennett Area Food Cupboard and Mission Santa Maria this year, with more on the way. It's part of the school's new Harvest program, possible through a partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Since the program began in 2019, more than one ton of food has been donated to those who need it most.

"There are so many good things about this program," said Pattie Mancuso, a teacher at Kennett Middle School who helps to manage the raised-bed gardens. "We are very proud of this and it's a point of pride in our building."

The garden was funded through a grant by the Kennett Education Foundation, and is staffed completely by student volunteers. The Chester County Food Bank helped with Kennett's program by offering discounted raised beds and sending volunteers to help build them.

Last year, due to COVID, the school staff maintained the gardens and harvested 1,700 pounds of food, all donated to the food cupboard.

"There is so much to learn here for these kids," Mancuso said. "Gardening is physical, but this is strictly volunteer. Every week, there are more and more volunteers than I can physically use in the garden. It's good to see the kids watch the results from week to week."

The students call the garden the Four Seasons Garden, and they manage it from start to finish, from putting the seeds in the ground to harvesting the produce.

Even students from Kennett mIddle's After The Bell program got involved, with 15 students showing up every week to tend to the gardens.

Mancuso said now that school is out, the gardens will be maintained by staff, with some student volunteers checking in once a week during the summer.

"This is a really cook life skill for kids who just need a five-gallon bucket and dirt to see produce you can get for your family," Mancuso said. "There are so many good life lessons that come out of this."

Other nearby schools, such as Charles Patton Middle School, have a raised-bed garden program maintained by students.

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