For the past two years, Lincoln County has participated in a statewide initiative geared toward healthier eating, with a community garden planted to provide fruits and vegetables to those less fortunate.
The Nourishing North Carolina (NNC) program, a partnership between North Carolina Recreation & Park Association (NCRPA) and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina that started in 2011, has set out to establish a garden in all 100 of the state’s counties by the end of this year.
“The vision and goals are to provide our state with healthier food, support food pantries for the needy and provide physical activity for anyone that volunteers to help in a garden,” said Shane Huss, program coordinator with the Lincoln County Parks and Recreation Department.
At the end of its third year, the initiative hopes to have made a substantial difference.
“In these three years, NNC has set goals to supplement more than 149,000 meals with fresh fruits and vegetables,” Huss said. “The program also hopes to provide at least 20,000 pounds of donations to food pantries and homeless shelters. This effort will produce around 17,000 hours of physical activity through the garden preparation and maintenance.”
The county, after receiving a two-year grant for the project last summer, planted its first garden in June of 2012. The grant allotted $3,000 for the first year and $750 for the second.
This year’s garden, located at the west end of the county’s Department of Social Services building on East Main Street in Lincolnton, is in full swing. Locally, it’s a collaboration between various entities, including the DSS, the Parks and Recreation Department and the Lincoln County Public Library Summer Reading Program, all of which have provided staff or volunteers to work different plots of the garden.
“We harvested over 220 pounds of produce in the 2012 garden that included squash, okra, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, watermelons and pumpkins,” Huss said. “This year, we have included all of those fruits and vegetables and also added zucchini, corn, green beans and cantaloupes.”
Much of the early work on the garden, including logistics and preparation such as plowing, tilling and fertilizing, was headed up by staff from the Parks and Recreation Department (including Huss and Freddie Scronce, senior grounds maintenance technician),who had also applied for the grant funding.
All departments involved planted their own seeds or plants, weeded and watered and have now begun harvesting their separate plots.
“Each department has individuals or organizations within the county that they distribute their produce to,” Huss said.
One of the grant’s guidelines is that 10 percent of all produce must be given back to the community to help support those in need.
“This can be given directly to individuals or through food pantries, homeless shelters and/or other organizations,” Huss said. “In 2012, the Lincoln County garden gave approximately 90 percent of its produce to these types of organizations. None of the produce is sold.”
While the grant money runs out at the end of this growing season, county officials have discussed continuing the garden project in the future due to its success the last couple of summers.
“There has been an abundance of gratitude for the county growing produce for our community,” Huss said. “People enjoy seeing us come with our buckets of produce.”