JSU, Blackburn Middle School receive $20,000 for collaborative student learning garden 

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JANS – Jackson State University’s Office of Community Engagement, in partnership with Blackburn Middle School, received a total of $20,000 from United Way of the Capital Area (UWCA) and Soul City Solar at the annual Student-Led Farmer’s Market on Friday, May 17. The funds will support the JSU/Blackburn Learning Garden to benefit middle school students and combat food deserts in surrounding communities.

“We began this garden eight years ago with our friends in the University Park neighborhood, where we are now, under the leadership of Ms. Betty Lyons. Ms. Lyons, who is now in Heaven, always used to tell me, ‘Heather, we want a garden, but you know the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few,’” said Heather Denne, Ph.D., director of JSU’s Office of Community Engagement.

The harvest was indeed plentiful, with contributions from Stamps Super Burgers in the form of $125 toward the student farmers market proceeds, and a $7,000 donation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help repave the learning garden grounds, ensuring ADA compliance. Soul City Solar and UWCA each donated $10,000.

“We at United Way are all about supporting and convening natural partners around health, education, and economic mobility. Today, we are specifically focused on teaching young people about healthy living, growing vegetables, and entrepreneurship,” said Nikki McCelleis, president and CEO of UWCA.

The student-led farmer’s market was full of excitement and new beginnings for many Blackburn Middle School students as they helped patrons select fruits and vegetables, they had grown themselves.

Jayden Bryant, a sixth grader and garden club member at Blackburn Middle School, believes that working in the learning garden has taught him the importance of health.

“I joined because I thought it would be a good experience and a chance to connect with nature and fruits and vegetables. I have learned that it’s good to eat more fruits and vegetables because it helps with your health,” Bryant said.

Organizations such as Mississippi Public Broadcasting, Food Corps, and GenFreeMS joined the event, offering free children’s books about plants, freshly made preserves from locally grown blueberries, financial literacy resources, and freshly squeezed juices. Representatives from Foot Print Farms also taught four-year-olds from JSU’s Lottie W. Thornton Early Childhood Center and Little Saints Academy about potting and garden health.

Funds from UWCA and Soul City Solar will go toward the upkeep and programmatic needs of the learning garden.

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JSU, Blackburn Middle School receive $20,000 for collaborative student learning garden 

By Joshua Martin
June 10, 2024