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Happy Roots puts Salisbury on the (garden) map

Staff report

You might know him as the son of the legendary, iconic, eight-time Grammy Award-winning artist Willie Nelson.

You also might know him as the back-up guitarist for Neil Young. You might know him from his duets with Lady Gaga or as Bradley Cooper’s guitarist in “A Star Is Born.”

Now, consider Lukas Nelson a supporter of Salisbury nonprofit Happy Roots.

Happy Roots’ board members recently met Nelson at the 19th annual Floydfest in Floyd, Virginia, where he performed. This year, Nelson also participated in a panel discussion on agriculture and spoke on topics close to his and Happy Roots’ hearts — family farms, farmers markets, local business and community gardens.

Last month, Nelson released an album with his band Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real called “Turn Off the News (Build a Garden).”

Two of Happy Roots’ community gardening efforts — the West End Community Garden and a Price Head Start program — are acknowledged on Nelson’s “Good News Garden Map.”

The map marks the locations and lists information on community gardens and urban farms across the United States and Canada.

Happy Roots’ gardens in Salisbury are two of only five N.C. locations on the Good News Garden Map.

“I know there are lots more out there, but it’s pretty cool little ol’ Salisbury was recognized … especially for good news,” said Happy Roots Executive Director Ashley Honbarrier said in a news release.

In Salisbury, Happy Roots just finished a free Farm-to-Table summer cookout series at Henderson Independent High School called “Grillin at the Greenhouse.”

Students from the school, neighbors, friends and local farmers gathered together this summer at the school to enjoy harvests from the gardens, witheach event also featuring main courses off local farms.

The community enjoyed 200 grass-fed beef burgers, 200 Berkshire pork bratwursts, 15 pounds of free-range chicken and plentyof fresh produce.

Volunteers served up everything from homemade slaw, pasta salads, potato salads, corn on the cob and iced herbal teas with local honey.

“Local farmers were sitting with children of the neighborhood having conversations about how their cattle is raised,” Honbarrier said. “Much different than getting your burger from McDonald’s. Our society has lost the connection with where our food comes from.”

Happy Roots has been voluntarily managing Henderson School’s greenhouse and gardens for two years. The nonprofit group works with middle and high school students weekly.

“We can touch on any and every subject — math, science, history, wood shop, social studies, geography, health and nutrition, music, art — you name it,” Honbarrier said in the news release.

“With the rise of technology, you see kids on screens more than off. Students are more engaged and focused when they’re working hands-on. Gardening is extremely therapeutic. Sometimes we just turn on some tunes and plant seeds to help let go of any anxiety, frustration or anger.”

Henderson is one of the schools suggested for demolition in a recently proposed consolidation plan.

“We’re not sure what will happen with the school at this particular time or how long we have here,” Principal Alexis Cowan said. “However, we do know we are here and we’re going to make the best of it. And wherever Henderson will be, we hope the greenhouse and Happy Roots come with us.”

In addition to weekly classes at Henderson, Happy Roots has been administering the N.C. Farm to PreK curriculum at Price Head Start.

“We spend the first part of class checking on our garden — harvesting, tending, planting seeds, studying insects, sometimes even trouble-shooting, like when groundhogs eat up our melons,” Honbarrier said. “The kids have dissected sunflowers and green beans, learned the difference in earthworms and redworms, dug up potatoes, clipped herbs, and more.And we always end class with a healthy snack.”

On another note, Happy Roots partnered withBen Mynatt Nissan a few months ago for a new-car raffle to raise money for more school gardening programs. With the renewal plan underway for Rowan-Salisbury Schools, Honbarrier said, more teachers are turning to different teaching methods and hands-on learning activities, including those based around school gardens.

Happy Roots is nearing the halfway mark of its fundraising goal. The ongoing raffle is limited to 1,000 tickets, and the winner will be announced once that goal is met.

Tickets are $30 each, and all money raised over the cost of the car will go directly to fund school gardening programs.

The Kannapolis Intimidators are now rallying behind the cause. The minor league baseball club has invited Happy Roots to sell its raffle tickets at this Friday’s home game against Lexington.

The Intimidators also are throwing in a gift basket, including merchandise and game tickets to a winner chosen from fans who purchase tickets on game day.

To purchase a raffle ticket for a chance to win and support the cause, contact Happy Roots at www.happyrootsnc.orgor 980-234-4800.

“We’re almost there, so close but still so far away,” Honbarrier said. “We’re working really hard for this money. That’s how bad we want this. Every school should have a garden.”

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