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Solar Power, Community Partnerships Keep Garden Growing in Alexandria
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Solar Power, Community Partnerships Keep Garden Growing in Alexandria

Outdoor Education gets new start at Hollin Meadows Elementary School.

The rainwater cistern serves Hollin Meadows Elementary School Outdoor Education Program’s Learning Production Garden.

The rainwater cistern serves Hollin Meadows Elementary School Outdoor Education Program’s Learning Production Garden. Photo contributed

On March 30-31, the Hollin Meadows Elementary School (HMES) Outdoor Education Program will launch a multiphase development plan reestablishing the school’s Learning Production Garden by building raised garden beds and installing a solar-powered drip irrigation system using a $5,000 grant from Index Analytics, LLC, a data analytics and program management consulting firm.

These will be the first of many projects resulting from collaborations between an engaged community, public schools and private businesses supporting the Outdoor Education Program at HMES.

Prior to the three-year renovation of HMES, the Title I Fairfax County school located in Alexandria was known throughout the community for its 14,000 square feet of school gardens, which received national attention during a 2009 visit from First Lady Michelle Obama. When the gardens were forced to go fallow during construction, there was no doubt that rebuilding them would be a priority in the completed space, which was designed to include a 3,400 gallon rainwater cistern.

The Hollin Meadows Partnership for Outdoor Education reactivated at the start of the 2018-19 school year to work with Jess Buchanan, the newly hired outdoor education coordinator, to plan for and help fund a new and improved Outdoor Education Program at HMES. In December 2018, the partnership launched a successful fundraising campaign to rebuild the Learning Production Garden so HMES students could begin growing and harvesting their own produce in the spring of 2019. This campaign secured funding for the construction of 20 raised garden beds, which will be assembled and installed by local Cub Scout Pack #888 as its 2019 Spring Service Project.

To solve the problem of how to irrigate the garden beds using the newly installed cistern, Buchanan consulted with experts in the field and identified a solar-powered drip irrigation system as the best solution. The Partnership helped secure funding for the new irrigation system through a $5,000 grant awarded by Index Analytics. The Index Analytics grant will fund the irrigation system and establish an infrastructure that is reliable, low-maintenance, and eco-friendly.

Seeing the planning of the system as an opportunity for both education and collaboration, Buchanan reached out to the Engineering program at West Potomac High School and Engineers Without Borders to form a team to help plan and design the irrigation system. Together, Adam Neulight, an HMES alum and high school senior, and Julius Duncan, an environmental engineer volunteering through the Northern Virginia Professionals chapter of Engineers Without Borders, worked together and are excited to see their plan come to life this spring.

The Hollin Meadows Partnership for Outdoor Education is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with nearly a decade of service to Hollin Meadows Elementary School. The mission of the Partnership is to enhance the curriculum at HMES through raising funds and community support for the Outdoor Education Program.

For more information and the latest news from the Partnership, visit www.hollinmeadowspartnership.com.