A thriving teaching garden at a Concord elementary school has helped spawn an effort to integrate a horticulture curriculum into the Cabarrus County and Kannapolis City public school systems.
As part of that effort, the newly renamed Cabarrus Farm and Food Council will convene a Hunger Education Summit Sept. 11 to connect people and pool community resources that help fight hunger countywide.
Roughly 200 people are expected to attend. A panel will discuss how children can learn while growing food, and how they can help those in need. Topics will range from community gardens and school food pantries to the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm Park.
Formed in 2010 at the request of the Cabarrus County Board of Commissioners, the Cabarrus Farms and Food Council (formerly the Cabarrus County Food Policy Council) and its 21-member volunteer board performs research, helps educate the community, develops strategies and makes policy recommendations that promote a sustainable local food economy.
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It changed its name but continued its mission after the county commissioners in June eliminated its annual funding of $6,000.
Rene Shuford serves on the Farm and Food Council and is chairwoman of its school garden committee.
“Our goal for this summit will be to help school administrators, faculty and staff to begin the process of creating school gardens and integrating (them) into the curriculum,” Shuford said, “so students can learn from the beginning how food is grown, harvested and prepared,” said Shuford.
Rachel Wilkes is executive director of the Cabarrus County Education Foundation, which distributes small grants to teachers in Cabarrus County Schools.
“As I was traveling around, making sure that these projects were being implemented and (monitoring) their progress, I noticed that a lot of them were along the lines of edible gardening/seed-to-stomach education,” said Wilkes.
“I was particularly impressed by the gardens at Wolf Meadow Elementary School, how they got started and why they have been so successful and sustainable.”
As interest in teaching gardens spread, school representatives and the Food Council began to brainstorm ways to offer a hands-on horticulture education, Wilkes said.
“From these meetings came the idea of an education summit, where we could gather all interested parties into one location, prevent overlap and possibly come up with a joint initiative and plan in mind,” Wilkes said.
A model garden
Wolf Meadow’s nonprofit Goodie Gardens were created two years ago.
Paula Shrum, technology facilitator for Wolf Meadow Elementary, helped the school get more than $1,000 in grants to start the edible garden.
“Last September we entered a gardening booth in the Cabarrus Agricultural Fair and won first prize,” Shrum said. “We also won third place for our grape tomatoes.”
The project also gave rise to an after-school garden club, where roughly 15 students in third to fifth grades learn about sustainable gardening.
At first, the students didn’t associate food with gardens. Instead, when asked their food comes from, some answered “Walmart” or “the grocery store.”
“This discovery clued us in on a need that we could address with our school garden,” Shrum said.
Offering a garden club to younger students is on the horizon, she said.
“We would love to be a place where other schools could come and visit,” Shrum said, “and learn more about starting their own edible gardens. ”
Penelope Perkins-Veazie, a professor of horticulture, works at N.C. State University’s Human Health Institute at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis.
“We’ve been working on various aspects of local food, and lack of, in Cabarrus County since 2010,” she said. “This summit represents a large and united step forward.”