Lake Norman Magazine

Food for Thought

Healthy School Initiative

It was not your typical pizza outing.

One day last May, the students in Tina Brock's third grade class at Davidson Elementary gathered the vegetables they'd grown in the school’s courtyard garden. Then they took a walking field trip to nearby Fuel Pizza, where they topped pizzas with their own carefully grown tomatoes, herbs, and vegetables.

For the kids, it was a reminder that healthy food can be tasty—and fun.

"You could see a real sense of pride in the kids, knowing they were cooking vegetables and herbs they grew themselves," says Autumn Michael, a Davidson resident with three children at the school.

Michael is one of the founders of Davidson's Healthy School Initiative, a group that has been launching projects like the school's "pizza garden" to combat the forces that push many children toward less nutritious foods.

"Kids today are bombarded with ads for fast food and video games," says JoAnn Young, another Davidson Elementary mom who chairs the Healthy School Initiative. "There's not an equal force advocating for a healthy life."

Young, Michael, and more than a dozen other Davidson parents are trying to change that. They believe their multi-pronged program will help local kids prevent childhood obesity and set them on a path toward healthier adult lives. Thanks in large part to the program, many Davidson students are learning that healthy eating doesn't have to be boring. In some classrooms, students sample a "taste of the rainbow," trying a vegetable from each color on the spectrum. They've also grown and harvested lettuce and herbs from the school's courtyard garden to make salads for staff appreciation day.

With an annual budget of about $2,000, the program operates as a part of the school's parent teacher organization, and also develops programs to teach kids about exercise and ways they can help the environment, such as recycling.

“Healthy, lifelong habits really start with choices kids are making in elementary school," Young says.

Smithville Community Garden

The residents of Smithville, a historically African-American community in the heart of Cornelius, had a problem—and an opportunity.

Their neighborhood of more than 200 residents had been struggling with unemployment, drugs, and poverty.

"We wanted to find a way to get life back into our community," said Lisa Mayhew-Jones, co-chair of the Smithville Community Coalition.

Mayhew-Jones and her colleagues in the coalition saw potential in a plot of land along Catawba Avenue that had once been owned by her grandparents. They approached the town of Cornelius—the current owner of the land—with the idea of establishing a community garden there. Cornelius officials loved the idea, and agreed to spend about $10,000 from the town’s budget to launch it.

In less than 30 days, a garden was born. Now hundreds of volunteers from the community, area churches, and nonprofit groups help maintain the garden, including building garden boxes, planting vegetables, and erecting fences.

"That garden has opened up a lot of doors to people who didn't even know about Smithville," Mayhew-Jones said. "It has been awesome. It really has."

Davidson Community Garden

Open to all, this 5,000-square-foot organic garden grows vegetables that are donated to the local Loaves and Fishes pantry at the Ada Jenkins Center.

Tended by some 40 volunteers and supported by Davidson United Methodist Church, the garden turned out about 2,000 pounds of vegetables last year. It's located at the corner of Potts Street and Catawba Avenue, on land owned by Davidson College and leased to Davidson United Methodist.

"In addition to providing food to needy people, it also provides a sense of community and cooperation among the people who come there," says Eddie Branch, a retired Davidson resident who, with his wife Connie, coordinates the garden efforts. "And it inspires some people to start gardening at home."

Seeds Community Garden at St. Albans

At this organic garden, not everything that's harvested grows in the dirt. Expert beekeepers also collect quite a bit of honey.

Davidson residents pay $80 a year for the privilege of tending and harvesting one of the 50 garden beds. The gardens are located along Caldwell Lane, on land owned by St. Alban’s Episcopal Church. The garden has recently expanded, and volunteers hope soon to plant blueberries and fruit trees.

Community gardening is perfect for beginners, says Olivia Bearden, the garden board's chair.

"That's a great way to start because you have all these gardeners around you who you can learn from," she said.

Cascade Community Garden

In Mooresville's Cascade neighborhood, a large community garden is providing fresh vegetables to some families that might otherwise have little access to such healthy food.

Located on town-owned land in one of Mooresville's least affluent areas, it's open to all. The Top of the Lake Rotary Club teamed up with the town of Mooresville to establish the garden in 2012. Coordinators have obtained grants to enhance the garden.

"It's bringing different age groups together, says Mooresville deputy town manager Maia Setzer. "You have an older group teaching younger kids that this where there food comes from.”