Earth Day Jam rocks on through rain and shine

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, April 25, 2023

SALISBURY — The annual Earth Day Jam, the largest fundraiser every year for Happy Roots, is a rain or shine event, and Saturday, the festival carried on despite both rain and shine, raising about $16,000 for the nonprofit organization.

Ashley Honbarrier and Stacey Carter started the local event in 2012, and with the exception of a few years’ break for COVID, the event has carried on each spring — but not always at Bell Tower Green. According to Honbarrier, “For about 10 years we held the festival on the edge of town on a local horse farm. A lot of people have asked why we didn’t move the event downtown, but the wide open spaces, grassy fields and green space are incredibly important to our vibe. But once Bell Tower Green opened, it felt like a great match.”

The event runs a full day, offering a full slate of musical performances as the backdrop to local farms, artists and organizations focused on health, well being and care of the earth and its inhabitants. This year, early thunderstorms passed by the time the event was ready to open, then returned for a brief show about 3:30 p.m., but left the park clear for a fabulous finish.

There were two separate performance areas on Saturday, the main stage under the canopy of the park and in the back, CJ’s Sunshine stage where, in addition to a number of performances, including a ukulele band, CJ Peters offered a tribute to the late performer Chelsea Childers, who was scheduled to appear at the event.

Happy Roots is a nonprofit organization providing nature-based therapeutic and educational services to enhance the wellness of the community and the environment. The organization currently works with 25 Rowan-Salisbury schools, offering school gardens where children learn gardening and horticulture in a hands-on environment. Not only do students learn about healthy foods and nutrition, students also gain the therapeutic benefits of nature and gardening by practicing therapeutic horticulture as a healthy coping mechanism.

Therapeutic horticulture is something Happy Roots offers outside of schools as well, said Honbarrier, noting that working in the earth has become a “wonderful way of coping for so many people. Getting hands in the earth, creating something of value and beauty, having some control over something that has such a positive benefit, that’s good for everyone, including children.”

Happy Roots has begun to branch out in other areas as well, working on composting, recycling and even garden installation. And plans are in the works for a Happy Roots farm at some point, complete with a greenhouse.

Both Honbarrier and Carter are Salisbury natives. Honbarrier’s background started with teaching, but her love of the earth and things that grow has always marked who she is. She is a certified N.C. Early Childhood Educator, but she has training in Farm to Early Care & Education from North Carolina State University Center for Environmental Services. She has spent time studying medicinal herbs, and plans to continue her education in herbal medicine and nutrition. After years of managing musical acts and performing, she and Carter got together and founded the Earth Day Jam music festival. After three years of producing the event, she helped found Midwood Entertainment based out of Charlotte. She is also certified in Music Therapy & Sound Healing.

In 1996, Carter graduated from Davidson College with a degree in medical ethics. She is a Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor and Equine Specialist in mental health and learning. She has over 20 years of experience teaching children and working with people with special needs and is certified by Communities In Schools.

Both women are not just committed to the Happy Roots concept of exposing children to growing in the earth and finding comfort and confidence in it, but to the concept of protecting the earth.

“There is something magical about watching a child working in their first garden,” said Honbarrier. “But that means there is something essentially important about preserving the ground for those gardens.”