A packet of seeds can lead one on a magical journey, especially for children discovering the joys of gardening for the first time. Imagine their surprise upon seeing tiny green shoots push up from the soil that blossom into flowers and vegetables with fascinating names such as nasturtiums, periwinkles, arugula, and leeks.
What a delight listening to a group of fourth graders discussing their new living willow tunnel at the entrance to the garden. Wondrous things can happen when digging in the dirt is encouraged and celebrated.
Many campuses have designated areas with container planters and raised beds for growing a garden, but imagine transforming the majority of a school’s grounds into a series of outdoor classrooms where students can create an interactive and sustainable environment filled with fruit and nut trees, row crops, compost bins, natural play structures, wildflower meadows, and quiet places to sit and enjoy the peacefulness of nature.
This is happening at Vance Elementary School in West Asheville and Verner Center for Early Learning on Riceville Road east of town, thanks to those who envisioned transforming school grounds and public spaces into thriving, edible landscapes. These two pilot projects are just the beginning of more programs on the drawing board at Roots Foundation, a local nonprofit organization started by Matt Parris, CEO and founder of Roots Hummus.
“I’ve always believed in the healing power of food,” says Matt. “It makes sense to start children off with this same philosophy … by giving them the opportunity to pick a fresh carrot from the garden and to discover that some potatoes are purple. It’s reassuring to know they’ll understand the benefits of living in harmony with nature. So many youngsters have no idea how food is grown. It’s up to us to open the garden gate and let them in.”
Conversations with friends, teachers, and others concerned with Buncombe County’s youth soon began the formation of the organization that would promote garden education and provide seed money to get things off the ground so youngsters could know firsthand what’s it’s like to grow and harvest fresh food for the table.
At the helm of Roots Foundation is executive director Justin Holt, a permaculture designer, grower, and cofounder of Nutty Buddy Collective and Nursery. “To see a child gather fresh beans from a teepee tent they helped build from fallen branches in the woods is a thrill,” says Justin. “This experience will stay with them a lifetime.”
Justin says he’s especially grateful for those who are partnering with the organization, through financial support and with volunteers. These include North Carolina Outward Bound and Warren Wilson College with the program at the Verner Center, and FEAST Asheville (Fresh, Easy, Affordable, Sustainable, Tasty) at Vance Elementary. Together, they’re promoting healthy eating choices, making accessible to everyone of all income levels through hands-on garden and cooking education.
An example of the generosity that Roots Foundation has received is the large parcel of land that North Carolina Outward Bound donated for the garden and outdoor classroom area for the students next-door at Verner. The area once was a thicket of brambles and brush that was diligently cleared by college students from down the road at Warren Wilson. They work hand-in-hand with the youngsters on continuing projects, providing a mentorship program that instills friendship and community.
Nurturing a child’s curiosity in the garden is the same as planting a tree for tomorrow. It’s a promise of hope for the world we share.
To learn more about Roots Foundation and how you can volunteer and support their efforts, visit rootsfound.org or call 828.365.8012.