Nonprofit Happy Roots is back in RSS schools, growing to 20 locations

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 5, 2021

SALISBURY — Local nonprofit Happy Roots has stepped up its school gardening program from a dozen schools to 20 this year and is looking to grow even more.

The previous school year was a challenge for the volunteer organization, with schools largely off limits during the fall. Happy Roots kept reaching kids and families through its home gardening courses, but now the nonprofit wants to keep reaching more schools.

Happy Roots Director Ashley Honbarrier said the nonprofit started to get back to normal in the spring and its programs are now back in full swing.

“It feels like we’re sort of back to normal,” Honbarrier said. “The hardest part has been connecting with the teachers because it is so hectic.”

Expanding comes with some logistics challenges. Some schools have existing gardens that need to be revitalized and others need new gardens altogether.

Honbarrier has some help from local people. Dave Johnson, a frequent community volunteer, built some of the beds for the home gardening courses this year with lumber he milled himself. Some of the new garden beds going in at schools are his handiwork as well.

The workload is manageable right now, with teachers and students stepping up to manage gardens, but Honbarrier is exploring longer-term ways to do this work full-time, noting there are only a handful of counties in the state with a community and schools garden coordinator position. She wants to reach every school.

Honbarrier sees opportunities to expand garden education in areas it is missing. She gave the example of West Rowan Middle, which feeds in to West Rowan High. The high school has an agriculture program recognized on the state level, and Happy Roots can give some kids some exposure to agriculture in middle school and create an opportunity for high school agriculture students to work with kids in the middle school.

The nonprofit is working with Knox Middle School for the first time this year, and the school has a green house on site. Overton already works with Happy Roots, so students at Overton will get to keep gardening when they move on to Knox.

The program started working with Henderson Independent School in 2017, gardening with students there every week. Just recently students at Henderson made tomato chutney with garden and greenhouse ingredients, among other foods they are producing on site.

The kids get hands-on experience and some lessons about food as well, like the importance of the sweet potatoes they are digging up to North Carolina. The tuber is the state vegetable and, according to N.C. State University, about 70% of the sweet potatoes in the country are grown in the state. The sweet potato slips Happy Roots uses are produced by N.C. State’s own breeding program.

The nonprofit also works with local landscaping companies and nurseries to help students find work they are interested in.

“These students are potentially missing out on something that they’re really interested in because they’re not getting exposed to it,” Honbarrier said.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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