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Happy Roots

by | Jan 23, 2023 | Health

It’s that time of year that people begin longing for spring, and if you like gardening, you are probably thinking about when and what to plant. Seed catalogs are arriving, and we have just enough nice days to serve as a “weather tease” and make us anticipate our expected crops. In our family, we have our grandchildren help pick out what we are going to plant in the coming year. However, they tend to circle everything in the seed catalogs, so that is risky. Gardening is a healthy hobby in many respects, both physically as well as mentally and emotionally. Many people consider gardening great overall exercise and a healthy and inexpensive replacement for going to the gym to workout. A recent post on Facebook caught my eye that showed a gardener’s “workout” and is depicted below.

If you choose to do your workout via gardening be sure to get some good gloves and a wide brimmed hat! If you are new to gardening and want to get into it as a hobby, there are plenty of ways to get started. One option is to contact Happy Roots (happyrootsnc.org) which is a 501c3 nonprofit organization providing nature-based therapeutic and educational services to enhance the wellness of the community and the environment. Happy Roots focuses on creating school and community garden space as a tool for environmental education, mental health therapy, outdoor classrooms for STEM curriculum, and functioning green spaces to address climate change, food insecurity, nutritional needs, and community appearance. On their webpage you can find and order a 4H starter packet and learn Best Ways to Start a Garden. You can also access a Vegetable Planting Guide that indicates the best times to plant different vegetables here in Rowan County, as well as other valuable information. If you don’t have room for a garden of your own, you can volunteer with some of the Happy Roots projects.

Ashley Honbarrier, is the local co-founder and Executive Director of Happy Roots, School & Community Garden Coordinator, and practicing horticulture therapist. She emphasizes gardening as a therapeutic strategy for people with emotional or psychological issues. She is particularly excited about gardening with people suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia and sees how it brings some spark of brightness to their lives.

“We’ve had some major breakthroughs in our program,” Ashley shared. Three of her favorite success stories are….

“I’ve had an Alzheimer’s patient come back to us and her memory stay with us for several months now, after a long period of not remembering her own husband and family, her husband, who I had been working with for about a year, would take her herbs and flowers to the Memory Care unit where she lived. Then, after all that time, she started coming out to garden with us this past summer, remembered her husband, family, and the plants… and has been with us since. There is a picture attached of them repotting spider plants together this week. It is so nice to see them so happy and enjoying life together.”

“Secondly, a man who initially had hand tremors so severe he could not fill plants with soil, has been participating with us and repotted all of these plants himself this week.” (Picture attached)

“Lastly, an elderly woman who is so frail and fragile, quit eating. We were worried she was leaving us. She only wanted smoothies and fresh veggies from our garden. I was also told that the only reason she wanted to come out of her room was for our garden group. She’s still getting around today and participating in all our activities.”

There are countless stories like this! Happy Roots also incorporates animal therapy with a therapy dog in training, a Goldendoodle named Mercy. They work with a number of organizations to get gardens started and currently work with twenty-five schools on garden programs, including Henderson Independent High School.

Happy Roots began in 2017 with one school greenhouse and one community park. By the end of the 2021-22 school year, they were working with at least twenty Rowan County Schools on therapeutic horticulture, hands-on stem curriculum and school garden programming along with their current ten other neighborhood, community, and Health & Rehabilitation gardens to increase access to fresh healthy foods and resources for mental health therapy. “Our goal was always to reach every Rowan Salisbury School. And we’re almost there! Every school should have a successful school garden program, and we’re here, with the knowledge, skills, labor and resources to make that happen.” Educators can access school garden lesson plans on the Happy Roots website. 

Despite the pandemic challenges and not being able to host their annual fundraisers, they have  still been able to sustain and grow. Since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, they have gifted over 200 garden kits (raised beds, soil, plants, seeds, tools and tutelage) to local students, families, and individuals in need. Some gardens went to schools and community centers. “We are seeing students we worked with in preschool now in elementary school, elementary school now in middle school, and families on their 3rd and 4th seasons of gardening. One family who started out with zero gardening experience has turned their backyard into an all-out urban farm in just one year’s time. This isn’t a one-time deal. People are sticking with it.”

Another wonderful resource in Rowan County is The Rowan County Cooperative Extension Agency located at 2727 Old Concord Rd, Salisbury, NC which offers a wealth of information for the “would be” gardener. By going to their website (https://rowan.ces.ncsu.edu), you can access the 24th edition of the Southeastern U.S. Vegetable Crop Handbook  as well as many other resources.  When my husband and I moved to Rowan County and had our first garden we were not terribly successful. We learned of a program through the Extension Agency where you can send soil samples off for analysis and they will tell you how to amend the soil for the vegetables you want to grow. We have since done this every year (free if done before December 1) and it has made a huge difference.

So, whether you want to take up gardening for the healthy exercise it provides, the healthy foods you can produce, or for the benefits of mental health, Rowan County is the best place to garden. Famous for strawberries, cantaloupes, tomatoes and peaches, as well as many other crops, you can’t miss if you put forth a little effort right here in Rowan County.

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About The Author

Dari Caldwell

I was born and raised on the northern end of Kannapolis, NC and after college (UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University) I lived away from North Carolina for 12 years, during which I earned a doctorate in Health Care Administration. My career has been in healthcare for over 40 years and in addition to being a Registered Nurse, I have held healthcare executive positions in Los Angeles, California, New York, Concord, Charlotte, and finally completed my career as President of Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, where I retired in 2020. I live in and love Rowan County and have enjoyed immersing myself in the community on various volunteer boards such as Rowan Cabarrus Community College, Rowan Chamber of Commerce, Rowan Economic Development, Novant Hospice Advisory, Healthy Rowan, and am now Board Chair for the Rowan Board of Health. In retirement, my husband David and I have enjoyed our hobby of vegetable gardening, and visiting our children. We have two sons – Trent, who is the head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Lenoir Rhyne and is married to Brittany. They have 3 children including brand new twins! Our younger son Chris lives in Shreveport, Louisiana where he is an orthopedic surgery resident physician. We love sports, and also enjoy time at the lake, the beach, and with my 93 year old very spry mother!