Perspectives Online

Beaufort County Community Garden plants seeds of knowledge, better nutrition and improved physical activity

As part of a nutrition and physical activity program, elementary school students took part in a garden day at the Beaufort County Community Garden.

Photo courtesy Tanya Weyrauch

When Horticulture Agent Tanya Weyhrauch talks about Beaufort County’s community garden, she refers to a quote by writer Linus Mundy: “Think small. Planting tiny seeds in the small space given you can change the world or, at the very least, your view of it.”

With the city of Washington’s lease of a one-acre space near the local airport, Weyhrauch and the county’s Extension Master Gardener volunteers created a space where 140 people had the chance to plant plenty of tiny seeds as they learned more about gardening, got some exercise, spent time outside, improved their nutrition with fresh fruits and vegetables and saved on grocery bills.

Planting vegetables and growing and using herbs were among the lessons in the garden.
Photo courtesy Tanya Weyrauch
The garden was also the site of the “Kids in the Garden Day,” the culmination of a nine-session “Steps to Health” program designed to help 85 local third-graders increase their physical activity and their overall nutrition.

At the June garden day, the students took part in a garden tour and learned about food safety, vermiculture, composting and water conservation as well as planting vegetables and growing and using herbs. It was a hands-on experience designed to boost the students’ self-confidence in growing their own food.

The county Extension staff -- including Weyhrauch, County Extension Director Ann Darkow, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent Susan Chase and 4-H agents Kimberly Corey and Louise Hinsley -- worked to integrate the three programs for stronger impact. They called the overall effort “Teaching Healthy Lifestyles: One Garden at Time,” and they won a state award from Epsilon Sigma Phi.

The idea for the garden originated with Master Gardener Jim Keen, who served as the garden’s chairman. His philosophy: Everyone needs a garden.

The site has available 49 plots, from 32 to 400 square feet, that gardeners can rent for the season
Photo courtesy Tanya Weyrauch
“Growing fresh vegetables is good for you and your family through better nutrition, physical activity and exposure to the sun,” Keen said. “Digging in the earth is a family activity worth cultivating, yet many families don’t have land for a garden.”

Keen, his fellow Master Gardeners and the Extension staff raised more than $13,000 in gifts and in-kind donations for fencing, irrigation, a water well and signs. Donors included Crop Production Services, Taylor Well Systems, Lowe’s Home Improvement and local farmer Andrew Arnold. Volunteers also contributed, putting in more than 1,000 hours of work at the garden and the school.

The garden opened in April with 49 plots ranging from 32 to 400 square feet. Gardeners paid $20 to $40 rent for the season.

.Third-graders participate in the “Steps to Health” program, designed to increase their physical activity and overall nutrition.
Photo courtesy Tanya Weyrauch
And by the end of the growing season, garden organizers said they saw significant changes among the students and gardeners: A survey of teachers involved in “Steps to Health” found that 71 percent of the students increased their fruit and vegetable consumption.

Also, all the community gardeners reported being physically active for at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week, and 85 percent said they consumed the recommended 2.5 cups of vegetables each day. In addition, 85 percent said they identified insects before using chemical control methods, 90 percent applied mulch to the soil, 100 percent followed pesticide label instructions and 67 percent watered deeply and infrequently, depending on plan needs.

The hands-on experience was designed to boost the students' self-confidence in growing their own food.
Photo courtesy Tanya Weyrauch
The project also brought recognition to Extension: The Washington Daily News ran several articles on the garden, and it was highlighted at a regional and state county commissioners association meetings as well as the N.C. State Fair.

Weyhrauch called the results positive and rewarding.

“The community garden is so much more than a place to grow vegetables,” she said. “It provided a sense of accomplishment to those who plant, and a sense of community – not to mention a reduced food bill.”

-- Dee  Shore