FORTVILLE —Mt. Vernon High School students enjoyed a bit of sunshine Wednesday afternoon as they picked produce from a community garden they planted outside the school.

Consisting of six 4-by-8-foot raised beds surrounded by gravel, the Mt. Vernon garden was created last school year by students in the JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) program and the Community Service Club.

It has since yielded over 245 pounds of colorful produce — including zucchini, squash, cucumbers, bell peppers and a variety of tomatoes — most of which is donated to the Fortville Area Resource Mission food pantry run out of Fortville Christian Church.

“I think it’s fabulous that the school is teaching its students to give back,” said Lisa Reynolds, executive director of the Fortville food pantry, better known as FARM.

“The community garden is allowing those friends who visit the pantry to receive regular gifts of fresh vegetables, which are sometimes hard to come by,” said Reynolds, who receives produce from the community garden each week.

The garden initiative was launched by teacher James Cochran, who was brainstorming ideas for a Project Based Learning service project for his JAG students last year.

Since the JAG program only consists of juniors and seniors, Cochran created a Community Service Club so students in all grades could participate.

Club member Ava Cochran said the garden has been a great way for students to give back to the community.

“It’s inspiring to know the produce we’re growing is helping to feed those in need,” said Cochran, 17, who was among the students who designed the garden last spring.

Cochran said building and maintaining the garden was entirely a student-led initiative. He was especially proud of students for designing the garden to be self-sustaining over the summer months, when fewer people would be available to help maintain it.

The students installed a weed barrier to minimize the need for weeding and an irrigation system with a timer to water the produce. They also sought out community partners to make the community garden possible.

Vernon Township received a grant to purchase gravel for the project, Tuttle Orchards donated plants, Metal Supermarkets donated metal, Backyard Blessings donated tomato cages, Schreiber Lumber donated wood and the Hancock County Community Foundation provided a grant to support other necessary materials.

Mt. Vernon High School welding students created metal “MV” garden stakes, and art students painted ceramic turtles and fish to use as garden accents. Some staff members and board members also pitched in to help.

Cochran said students are now planning to possibly expand the garden beds and diversity the types of produce grown there. They also might enhance the surrounding landscape with the addition of flower beds, benches and tables, where teachers can hold classes when the weather allows.