Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation gives $50,000 grant to Happy Roots

Published 12:01 am Friday, September 9, 2022

Staff report

SALISBURY — Trustees of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation have awarded Rowan County-based nonprofit Happy Roots with a $50,000 Community Progress Fund grant.

The grant is intended to boost the organization’s efforts and pilot the county’s first “School & Community Garden Coordinator” position. The awarded funds will be distributed over the next two years to fund staffing expenses. It’s the largest grant Happy Roots has received.

Smith Reynolds Foundation announced its Spring 2022 grant awards under its All For NC Framework for Grantmaking and Learning. Board of Trustees approved $2.76 million in grants for 119 organizations located across North Carolina.

“For more than 80 years, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation has been a catalyst for positive change in North Carolina,” said Maurice “Mo” Green, executive director. “ZSR is committed to the people of North Carolina, and the grants awarded in 2022 will support local, regional and statewide organizations that share in our vision and core values.”

Organization co-founder and program director, Ashley Honbarrier, will take over the coordinator position. Happy Roots board chair, Aron Burleson, along with Jason Walser (executive director of the Blanche & Julian Robertson Family Foundation) and Alexis Cowan (principal of Henderson Independent Middle and High School) joined in support of Honbarrier for the ZSR Foundation’s interview process held in March.

“This is right on time,” said Burleson. “We are so ready to take Happy Roots to the next level.”

Honbarrier has spent the last several years studying, training, implementing the programs and raising funds after she left her office job in Charlotte. She recalled her time working at Gentle Harmony in Lexington, thriving in the outdoor working environment. She says the idea for Happy Roots came from a desire to see an active environmental organization in the community.

Since Happy Roots’ inception in 2017, the nonprofit’s mission has remained the same, but over the years has become more centered around the primary tool of school and community gardens. In 2017, thanks to a connection made by Happy Roots co-founder Stacey Carter, the organization began volunteering services at Henderson Independent and  Salisbury’s West End Community Park. The nonprofit continues to work at both locations.

Honbarrier calls Henderson High School “the hub and heart of the entire operation” and said that use of this space has made for the organization’s success.

Happy Roots began sowing seeds with students, donating transplants to create other school and community gardens. Five years later, the nonprofit has been able to serve twenty-five Rowan-Salisbury Schools with no plans to stop there. With the help of local foundations and community donations, Happy Roots has donated garden beds, soil, hoses, tools, plants, seeds and instruction time, to help grow a successful school garden.

Happy Roots volunteers even maintain school gardens during the summer to make sure there’s a sweet potato crop for students to dig up in the fall.

“Sweet potatoes are our state vegetable,” said Honbarrier. “Agriculture is North Carolina’s number one industry. In fact, NC is the number one sweet potato producer in the entire nation. This is important to learn about.”

Happy Roots receives sweet potato slips from Plants for Human Health Institute, an in-house outreach component of N.C. State University and N.C. State Extension. PHHI offers an annual School Garden workshop which Honbarrier first attended in 2019.

“I’ve been inspired and hooked ever since,” she said. “PHHI has been incredibly supportive of Happy Roots and we are grateful.”

Happy Roots and PHHI will team up to offer its first School Garden Workshop for Rowan County educators, set for Oct. 14. A half day session at a central location is to come.

Sharing school garden knowledge, resources and ways to use the school garden as an outdoor classroom, complete with lots of school garden supply giveaways are included in the roster.

“This is just such a fun and, pun intended, fruitful workshop that can help us immensely,” said Honbarrier. “Not just in the school, but in everyday life.”

She said that to her, school gardens could be the answer to all world crises as it gives students and educators an outdoor classroom to share real world lessons and opportunities for hands-on learning.

“It teaches life skills of growing your own food and creating with your hands,” she continued. “You get the absolute best quality food, addressing the healthcare crisis. School Gardens give an appreciation of where food comes from and awareness of what we put into our bodies. It provides tools for mental healthcare through horticulture therapy and nature therapy. School Gardens are a way to connect us to nature, reminding us to protect our environment and natural resources.” She also believes that ultimately, it can help create a healthier, happier, more self-sufficient and sustainable community.

The School Garden workshop focuses on social and emotional connection learning and how to implement an outdoor classroom for all subjects. Additionally, Happy Roots will provide teachers with handouts and posters for student learning resources. A list of lesson plans can be found on the nonprofits website, www.happyrootsnc.org/lesson-plans.

The Happy Roots board thanked the Blanche & Julian Robertson Foundation and the Woodson Foundation for supporting the nonprofit’s programs.

Honbarrier is continuing education in herbal medicine, horticulture and horticultural therapy and is currently serving on the Rowan County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, Rowan County Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and as an inaugural member of the North Carolina School Garden Network Advisory Board.

Happy Roots is a National Farm to School Network affiliate, North Carolina Community Gardens Partner, Center for Environmental Farming Systems’ Farm to School Coalition partner and member of the North Carolina School Garden Network.

The Rowan County nonprofit will be featured at Carolina Farm Trust’s Carolina Jubilee as well as Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid — A Benefit for American Farmers this month.