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AHA improves the health and well-being of Wake County residents by facilitating and supporting community initiatives.

Cary’s Northwoods Elementary Digs In to Fresh Food

After careful planning and community support, the Northwoods Elementary School edible garden is taking root!

Lettuce, cabbage, collard greens, cauliflower, kale, garlic and herbs are growing at the new Northwoods Elementary School garden this fall, thanks to the efforts of student, parent and staff volunteers. “We are thrilled to see the garden come to life after several years of planning,” said Leigh Williams, a parent volunteer at the school. “We are so excited about how the garden will help students learn about where food comes from and how to grow it,” she continued.

Across Wake County, edible school gardens are taking root as an excellent tool for teaching youth about healthy eating and growing their own food. Plus, growing food exposes students to more varieties of food and encourages them to try different types of produce.

The Northwoods Elementary PTA committed to a school garden in the 2011-2012 school year and began planning, with Williams (and other committee members) attending AHA’s Dig In! in 2012 and 2013 to learn more about starting and maintaining school gardens. (Save the date for March 8 for Dig In! at Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh next spring!) By the end of the school year this past June, Northwoods had a team and solid plans in place.

After parents began construction on the fence last summer, students, parents and staff built 7 raised garden beds and began their fall planting last month. Some of the beds are deep enough to allow for root vegetables when it’s the right time to plant those, but Williams said herbs are planted there now.

Some of the produce from the garden will be donated to the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle through its Plant a Row for the Hungry program, and volunteer families will enjoy some of the produce.

Funding for the Garden

northwoods workTo date, the total cost of the garden is $2800 and lots of sweat equity. The Northwoods garden team secured donations of mulch, closed compost bins, a cistern, old decking, books for the library, seeds and plants for the edible garden. Financial support from two donors in the community including local family dentist, Dr. Edward Bailey, DDS, as well as the PTA and a generous donation from last year’s fifth graders enabled the crew to get started. Williams said a local garden center provided the soil at cost and delivered it to the school for free.

Community Partnerships

The majority of the fence and non-bed structures are reused material.  Williams said they partnered with a contractor who does demolition of old decks to build new screen porches; he lets the school garden team know when he has a deck in the area. The school benefits from access to the reclaimed wood, and the wood doesn’t go to the dump. The material for the raised beds is local white oak purchased from a mill in Raleigh.

“Except for hiring a contractor to put guttering on the portable classroom that sits next to the garden so we could fill our cistern, all the work has been done by parent and community volunteers,” Williams said. “It’s a team effort. Plus, we have learned about the skills and knowledge in our community and among our volunteers.” Will Ammons, a landscaper for Town of Cary and volunteer at the Cary Senior Center Community Garden, spoke about engaging seniors in community gardening at Dig In in 2012. Williams and Ammons connected there and learned that he is a parent at the school as well. “He was excited to hear our ideas and he has been integral to making this garden happen. When you start planning a garden, you learn that you have assets and talents within your own school community!” Williams said.

Future Plans

plantsWith support from Principal Robin Wahl, the garden plans are evolving. Northwoods science/math specialist Colleen Garvey is on the garden committee and is including the garden in her spring curriculum; she will also be starting seeds for the garden. The team plans to start a garden club in the spring.

In the meantime, the Garden Committee will maintain and harvest the garden. Northwoods is on the traditional calendar, so the crew plans a winter and spring garden, with individual families adopting the garden for a week each through the summer.

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