Plants are in the ground, a pond has been dug and bees have a safe space to call their own at Victoria Worley’s farm in Nathalie.

Most people know her as the culinary arts teacher at Halifax County High School, but this school year she decided to start a project that also would reach out to other classes such as agriculture and landscaping.

Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus, her ideas didn’t go as planned, but she still was able to create a bee friendly home and earn her bee friendly farm certification thanks to Microsoft and its ChangeX grant program.

As Virginia starts to move further along in its opening phases with a guarantee to hold school in the fall, Worley also is hoping to get students on the farm later in the year.

“It’s a hobby farm,” said Worley of the land she uses to plant vegetables, fruits and nuts for her family, and now she’s added trees, bushes, berries, over 400 bulbs, herbs, vegetables and perennial flowers.

And, the expansion of her farm started when she saw a post on Facebook for Microsoft’s ChangeX program earlier this year.

“It looked really cool, and I thought I could do a collaboration with the landscaping and agriculture class,” said Worley.

ChangeX, supported by a Community Empowerment Fund award from Microsoft, previously launched the Southern Virginia Community Challenge, a $35,000 fund for local community groups, schools and organizations that want to create thriving communities across the region. 

People can choose from 12 ideas that have already proven to have a positive social or environmental impact, both in the US and Europe.

Among the ideas groups can choose from are “Pollinator Partnership,” a program to help neighborhoods protect pollinators to ensure healthy ecosystems and food security, “Cycling Without Age,” a Danish program that allows older people in nursing homes to maintain healthy connections with the local community through regular bicycle rides or a “Girls Who Code” club, a free extra-curricular program teaching girls about computer science in a fun and safe environment.

Upon applying to the challenge, each team has 30 days to build a small team and design an action plan to be eligible for seed funding. The challenge grants range from $500 to $5,000, depending on the selected idea.

Since her pollinator partnership was selected, Worley received roughly $2,700 and began work right away with Denise Barksdale of the Halifax Farmers Market and Megan Throckmorton, of the South Boston Farmers Market and Future Farmers of America at Halifax County High School.

They started deciding what to plant and had to figure out how to have clean water.

The plan, she said, was to have landscaping and agriculture students come till the land and plant.

“Unfortunately, right as we were about to start work on it, the shutdown happened,” said Worley.

But, she didn’t let that slow her down.

She began scoping out the plants available at local shops such as Abbott’s Farm Supply and Reese’s Farm and ended up digging a pond herself for the clean water.

With the help of Barksdale, Throckmorton and her family, she was able to go ahead with the planting.

In order for her to earn her bee friendly certification, she had to have 3% of the total acreage devoted to bees and open forage.

She also doesn’t use pesticides.

The pond is thriving with fish, baby fish and tadpoles, according to Worley, who also said its main purpose is to provide water for pollinators.

Looking back on her project, she said, “It was super easy.

“Lots of other people could do it. It’s beautiful, it’s something to help the planet, and I didn’t have to pay for it,” said Worley.

As the culinary arts teacher, she already incorporated her farm into her school life in the past bringing figs, pears and other fruits and vegetables for students to try — some for the first time.

She understands the importance of getting students involved, and she hopes to be able to continue when schools return in the fall.

“They can still do work on it,” said Worley.

Not only could they work on the farm completing tasks such as pulling weeds, but they also could use the opportunity to work on plant identification, said Worley.

“It’s very helpful for them,” she said.

While everything is up and running for her lucky pollinators, she insists there will still be plenty of work to be done on of her bee friendly farm when students return in the fall.

The challenge is open to people living across Mecklenburg, Halifax, Charlotte, Luninberg and Brunswick counties and seed funding will be allocated to applicants on a first come, first served basis. 

Ashley Hodge is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com

Ashley Hodge is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com