GROVE CITY – The latest addition to the community garden at Grove City Middle School adds a splash of color while displaying the importance of water conservation.

“It’s something anyone can do,” Sarah Hazy said of making a rain barrel.

Under the guidance of GCMS art teacher Alisha Johnson, students Zoe Benjamin and Sarah painted two large rain barrels that help water the garden just outside Johnson’s classroom.

The barrels are situated underneath a gazebo in the center of the garden and collect rain water that flows off the roof through downspouts. Faucets attached at the bottom of the barrels release the water.

Laura Augspurger, a garden volunteer and GCMS aide, introduced the project idea, noting that high winds had damaged the previous rain barrels.

The group teamed up with Katie Nowland, environmental education and youth programming director at Buhl Park in Hermitage, which was able to donate the new barrels through a program the park developed with the Mercer County Conservation District.

Funding was provided by Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection environmental education grants, Nowland said.

“It’s really an amazing little place in Grove City and a great way for people to get involved in their community,” she said.

Nowland recorded some videos about rain barrels and water conservation, which Johnson shared with her students.

“They’re really good for the environment,” said Sarah, a 12-year-old sixth grader.

Her barrel design features flowers and colors commonly found in a garden.

Zoe, 14, who is in eighth grade, initially planned on painting a lightning bolt, but she decided to go with ocean waves.

She first designed the drawing digitally, then she sketched it onto the plastic barrel.

The girls said it was a fun project that they hope encourages others to practice water conservation.

Sarah and Zoe are very talented, said Johnson, adding that she loves having the garden right next to her classroom.

The garden includes herbs, fruits, vegetables and composting bins. Community members of all ages are welcome to help look after the garden and enjoy the food in return, Augspurger said.

“It’s all fully organic,” she said, adding that more volunteers are always welcome.

Nowland helps the with community garden in Grove City, whichs she said has a unique setup. Volunteers create a plan each winter to plant produce that everyone wants to harvest.

The plantings are rotated every year, and volunteers pay close attention to soil quality, which gets a boost from coffee grounds donated by local coffee shops.

It has become a place to learn, share and grow, and the new barrels are exciting, said Paul Goodman, who helped create the garden in 2012.

“It is satisfying to see the cooperation between students, Buhl Park and the community garden that results in the enrichment of our community in the context of the garden,” he said.

Buhl Park and MCCD have also been able to provide rain barrels to the Community Library of the Shenango Valley, the Mercer Community Garden and several businesses, Nowland said.

Plans are in the works for rain barrels at two daycares and a cemetery. These are places that usually don’t have access to hoses or similar water supplies.

Grove City Agway sourced all of the parts for the rain barrels and constructed them.

George Rodgers, the owner of Agway, was able to get barrels from a food distributor in Pittsburgh. They previously contained olives and pepper rings.

Pennsylvania gets a lot of rain, and the rain that comes off a roof picks up litter, soil, chemicals and other potential pollutants, Nowland said.

Using a rain barrel can prevent runoff and capture clean water to be used as needed.

For more information about the garden, visit “Grove City Community Garden” on Facebook, or plan a visit for 9 to 11 a.m. Saturdays, when volunteers do most of their work. To arrange a visit, call Goodman at 724-992-3256.

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