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

Partner Profile: Wake County SmartStart

Little Hands, Big Gardening Goals

We all know kids love to play in the dirt. So why not turn that love for digging in the dirt into a learning experience too? Thanks to the efforts of AHA partner Wake County Smart Start (WCSS), 16 local child care facilities across Wake County are doing just that.  For each of these, WCSS secured donations of tomato plants, and at three facilities, WCSS also provided technical assistance and gift cards from local businesses for plants and garden supplies .  

“WCSS is delighted to be able to support child care facilities interested in teaching children and families about gardening,” commented Anna Troutman, WCSS Program Coordinator and Evaluation Director. “We know that children learn best through hands-on, active learning, and gardening certainly provides this opportunity.”

This learning opportunity also works to reduce childhood obesity. The obesity epidemic affects even the very young U.S. population. According to the NC Nutrition and Physical Activity Surveillance System (NC-NPASS), 16.9% of Wake County children ages 2-4 are overweight and 17.4% of children ages 2-4 are obese.

WCSS Program Specialist Amy Hall, who has been actively involved with AHA’s Access and Environment Work Group, coordinated the effort and was instrumental in securing the donations of plants by a local community member, as well as the gift cards from local businesses. Together with Wake County Cooperative Extension, WCSS helped three of the centers with gardening services. Kathleen Hebert, Wake County Cooperative Extension, wrote a “how to” instructional kit,  Constructing Easy and Inexpensive Raised Garden Beds!, for each of the centers so they will have a resource to use in the future as staff changes at these centers.


Young Gardeners at Work

WCSS’ efforts on this project were designed to encourage child care providers and families to implement gardens and improve access to and consumption of fruits and vegetables by increasing the number of youth gardens. “The community resources gathered for the gardening projects created fabulous learning opportunities for teachers in child care settings,” Ms. Troutman said. “What the teachers learn, they then pass along to children in their care. Plus direct connection with growing vegetables encourages children and adults to eat fresh foods. And, most importantly, it’s fun.”

Wake County SmartStart is working to ensure children, birth to 5, are successful in school and in life. Officially formed in 1996, WCSS works to improve the quality, accessibility and affordability of child care settings, provide preventive health and early intervention services and offer family support services. The organization also promotes, supports and advocates for the needs of young children living in Wake County. More than 20,000 Wake County children benefit from 23 programs provided by WCSS funded community partners.

WCSS hopes to continue its gardening work in the next year. To learn more about this program and others, or to sign up for its newsletter, visit or call 919-851-9550.


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