Sowing their seeds: Henderson students dig greenhouse program

Published 12:08 am Sunday, December 25, 2022

SALISBURY — Teaching a man to fish is not the only way to feed him for a lifetime, as Henderson Independent School students are finding out through a greenhouse project partnership with a local nonprofit.

“The biggest thing we teach them is how to grow these vegetables and flowers, so they can sustain and grow them on their own as they get older,” Principal Alexis Cowan said. “It’s a skill, strategy, and learning opportunity for them to have something life-changing.

When driving by Henderson Independent School, it’s hard to miss the campus greenhouse, but it would be easy to overlook its significance for the students at the school.

Henderson is an alternative learning school. Students are placed there for a quarter, semester or year-long term with the opportunity to return to their home school if they reach three personalized goals: attendance, grades and discipline.

“A lot of (our students) have gone through all sorts of trauma in their lives,” said Mallory Whitley, a Henderson school counselor. “Horticulture is very therapeutic for our students. We see students be different people when they are out here … it helps your mood to be out with the plants and get your hands dirty.”

Given the sometimes fraught nature of their enrollment at Henderson, the principal explained that the students could be under a lot of stress.

“I like to see the students digging in the dirt and growing something they put out,” Cowan said. “It gives them fulfillment and takes their mind off why they are here.”

For one student, Brooklyn “B.J.” Henderson-Lyles, a ninth grader, who realized that plants are actually “cool,” it’s been a blessing.

“I have been learning about fruits, vegetables and plants,” Henderson-Lyles said. “Like you got the mother of a million, that’s a cool plant. Basically, the seeds drop off of the plant and then they will start a whole new plant.

“I just think it’s cool that you have so many different varieties of plants.”

Working in the greenhouse has opened his eyes to the possibilities of what he is capable of.

“It’s basically a good way to learn how to start your own garden,” Henderson-Lyles said. “This is my first time actually gardening stuff.”

Before studying the greenhouse, Henderson-Lyles didn’t spend much time wondering where his food came from.

“I’d just eat it,” he said with a laugh.

Now that he knows a little more about the process, it has his attention.

Henderson’s career and technical education teacher Ashlyn Coble pointed out that the lessons in the greenhouse don’t stop when they return to the classroom.

“We go through all the different food groups,” Coble said. “So one of the great things about our school garden is that the kids can take what they have grown in the garden back to the classroom, and they can cook those items. So it’s not just learning about nutrition, but seeing the whole process from starting seeds and even enjoying eating what they cooked.”

Cowan added, “We use a lot of peppers, kale, tomatoes for salads, and spices that they grow here. There are mint leaves and basil, to name just a few others. They use the produce like a farm to table.”

The greenhouse program was started in collaboration with Happy Roots, a nonprofit providing nature-based therapeutic and educational services to enhance the wellness of the community and the environment.

Without Happy Roots Executive Director Ashley Honbarrier, Coble explained that the greenhouse might still be dormant.

“This greenhouse was purchased by the school with a grant several years ago,” Coble said. “It sat empty for a long time. Ashley realized that it was empty and that no school gardening program was happening in our county. She came to the school and asked if she could utilize the greenhouse and start our garden here.”

Honbarrier and the school’s students and faculty hold multiple garden sales in December to support the program at Henderson. Students grow and propagate plants in the greenhouse all school year to be sold.

Then to promote the sale, the students used techniques they learned in Brianna Allison’s business, finance and marketing class.

“We talked about price, promotion and marketing,” Allison said. “They learned the whole process of creating a product, selling it, making it look good and promoting it.”

During the garden sale, the students learned about customer service by assisting customers with plant selection and conducting transactions.

Honbarrier indicated that the funds support the program and help treat Henderson students to a well-deserved lunch after the sale.