I first met Ashley Honbarrier in 2015. I was working with the Land Trust for Central North Carolina – now Three Rivers Land Trust – on an event called Earth Day Jam, which is a two-day festival of local musicians, food, educators, and community. Ashley was spearheading this event, along with Stacey Carter, in an attempt to celebrate Earth Day and bring attention to environmental issues, while offering a family-friendly event to the community. Ashley and Stacey knew they wanted this event to grow into something more and, after parting ways with the Land Trust, decided to expand Earth Day Jam’s mission year-round. To give you the condensed version, after a few moves, new jobs, and some other major life changes, Ashley and Stacey created Happy Roots. Happy Roots would soon turn into more than what Earth Day Jam could offer in a two-day festival.
The mission of Happy Roots is to provide nature-based therapeutic and educational services to enhance the wellness of the community and the environment. This type of therapy and education is crucial for the mental health of our community. The 501(c)(3) organization does this by increasing access to community gardens and locally grown food, hosting classes that support natural health and wellness, and youth programs that create opportunities for children to participate in gardening, yoga, therapeutic horsemanship, and music. I asked Stacey why she thought our community was in need of an organization like Happy Roots. She replied, “Everyone deserves happiness, health, and connection with beauty and abundance of the natural world. There is a disturbing trend in our culture towards medicine and agricultural production that is fueled by profits rather than the well-being of individuals.” She believes it is important that today’s youth learn and nurture compassion for the self, the Earth, and others. She is committed to creating alternatives to pharmaceutical treatments through longer lasting, effective approaches to health and well-being.
Planting the Seed of Knowledge
A major way Happy Roots accomplishes this is through gardening. Ashley informed me that the first grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, opened in 1916. She says “In just a few generations much of the knowledge about farming, gardening, preserving food, and living in harmony with the land has been lost. We believe it is vitally important that this knowledge is passed onto future generations.” One of Happy Roots first projects was the revitalization of the West End Community Garden on Brenner Avenue. During this time, the Miller Center’s after school and summer children’s programs were invited to participate with preparing and planting the garden. The children were taught the importance of earthworms, practiced meditation and yoga, prepared food grown in the garden, and learned about the variety of trees that grew in their neighborhood. Some of these children rode horses for the first time in their lives. They were able to taste snap peas and asparagus that they helped grow and care for. The next project was the Henderson Greenhouse. Ashley calls the Henderson Greenhouse their “central hub and heart of it all.” Through this project, Happy Roots has been able to work with at-risk youth to create a therapeutic environment that provides a respite to the chaotic world that many of these children deal with in their day-to-day. I asked Ashley if she’s personally seen an impact on anyone. She says there was a student that recently expressed that he wished he could come to the greenhouse more than once a week. It’s apparent that the relationship this student has with the greenhouse, the Happy Roots staff and volunteers, and the experience itself is providing him what’s missing in his life. This is a safe space for these students. Stacey told me, “We are teaching children they have more power than they realize, and they can use it in positive ways. We are creating experiences for these kids that support their physical, emotional, and mental health, as well as the health of the environment.”
One Coffee Ground at a Time
Another service of Happy Roots is composting. Composting is the process of recycling organic waste materials by decomposing and transforming them into a soil conditioner. Ashley informs me that food scraps and yard waste, which usually end up in a landfill, are actually valuable in creating nutrient rich soil. The Hampton Inn of Salisbury decided to create a food waste reduction initiative, and reached out to Happy Roots last year to assist them in this endeavor. Even though Happy Roots is young and couldn’t handle a large scale operation, they decided to start out by disposing of the hotel’s used coffee grounds. “Coffee grounds add nitrogen to the compost, which helps with soil structure, water retention and aeration, keeps slugs and snails away from plants, and is beneficial to gardening is so many other ways,” Ashley tells me. Ashley would like to see this service grow, as it benefits the gardens and the environment.
Happy Roots main projects right now are the Henderson Greenhouse, Town of East Spencer (TOES) Community Garden, West End Park, and Price Head Start School Garden. She states they have many others coming to Happy Roots for help with gardens and as much as they’d love to help, it’s a lot of work, time, and money. To help offset some expenses, Happy Roots still puts on Earth Day Jam as their major fundraiser. This year’s festival is April 19 and 20. “With help from Presenting Sponsor, Ben Mynatt Nissan, we have the ability to raise enough funds to tackle all of these projects this year!” Ashley exclaims. This festival is so much fun, and full of family-friendly entertainment. I highly encourage you to check it out. You can view the event on Facebook by searching “Earth Day Jam”. There’s even a raffle to win a free car!
I want to give a big thank you to Ashley Honbarrier for providing me with so much information. To learn more, check out Happy Roots on their website at www.happyrootsnc.org or on Facebook and Instagram. They are always in need of volunteers and supplies, which can be found on their website.
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