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9-year old feeding classmates, school system fresh produce from her garden
CROUSE — While many kids her age are spending their summer vacation sleeping late or sitting in front of the television, Elizabeth Schronce is doing something a little more resourceful.
The 9-year-old, who will be a fourth grader at Love Memorial Elementary School, has been selling the cherry tomatoes she grows to Lincoln County Schools to be used for its summer feeding program.
“Last year I started helping my daddy with his produce,” Elizabeth said.
Elizabeth grows her tomatoes along with her father’s produce. She goes with him to the Farmer’s Market in Gastonia once a week.
The Schronces have been farming for quite some time. Her father, Mark, and her grandfather were farmers.
“It’s somewhat of a tradition,” said Jeannie Schronce, Elizabeth’s mother.
The school system has been purchasing produce from farmers since the spring.
“We know that it’s fresher and tastes better, and we know that if it’s fresher and tastes better, children will eat more of it,” said Carolyn Thackston, supervisor of LCS’ child nutrition program.
The school system contacted Kevin Starr with the North Carolina Extension Service last fall to find local farmers who were interested in selling fresh produce.
Starr contacted the Schronces.
“I think the real payoff is that the kids are getting something good to eat and it also helps the farmers,” Starr said.
Elizabeth began sowing the seeds for her tomatoes in her family’s greenhouse in February. She then transferred the plants into the soil and has been tending to them daily.
“I pick them when they are red on the vine,” Elizabeth said.
Picking time is usually on Mondays from 9 – 10 a.m. She washes them, puts them in trays and boxes them up; her mother drives her to Lincolnton Middle School, where they are preparing the food for the summer feeding program.
Elizabeth usually produces about 20 pounds a week.
“Sometimes, if I have extras, they take the extras,” she said.
Every time she delivers her vegetables, she receives money from the school system.
“We write the check directly to her,” Thackston said.
Elizabeth, who wants to be a teacher, is putting away the money she makes for her college education.
“She wants to go to Duke so I told her to start saving,” Jeannie said.
She is also hoping to purchase a Hummer one day.
Although she has planted other vegetables, tomatoes seem to be her specialty.
“I grew beans, but they quit producing,” Elizabeth said. “My corn has started coming up.”
While Elizabeth enjoys growing her vegetables, she doesn’t enjoy eating them.
“She has never tasted [her vegetables],” Jeannie said. “She doesn’t like corn or beans. She likes tomato ketchup.”
She does, however, enjoy one vegetable.
“Mashed potatoes,” Elizabeth said.
Starr and Thackston hope the program continues in the coming year, so fresh foods will be available to children in kindergarten through high school.
“We hope to promote more this winter so [farmers] are more aware of the opportunity,” Starr said.
Thackston suggests that if farmers are interested, they should contact Starr and he will contact the school.
“We are hoping that when school starts we are able to use apples, tomatoes — regular and cherry peppers, cucumbers, lots of fruit,” Thackston said. “We can only use produce that doesn’t require a lot of labor.”

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