COVID-19 may have delayed the launch of in-person classes at the new WIC Demonstration Garden in Yadkin County, but the kale never got the message.
“That just does not stop growing,” laughed Ashley Beard, Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent.
Last year, a partnership between the Yadkin County Cooperative Extension Office and the county WIC Nutrition program launched a demonstration and learning garden for residents facing food insecurity to teach them how to grow fresh produce on their own.
“This has surpassed my vision for what it first was going to be,” Beard said. “We had no idea where we would be today. It really has been amazing just to see the community come together and donate or give their time.”
The project, which is now up to eight demonstration garden beds, is the result of a partnership between the two agencies that blossomed into a full-blown collaboration. The Courtney General Store donated seeds. Yadkin County Parks and Recreation helped build the raised beds. A local master gardener volunteered steadfastly. And the employees at the county DSS and government offices in Yadkinville — where the garden is located — tended the plants throughout 2020.
The garden recently received two grants to help install educational signage, a drip irrigation system, seating for around the garden beds and home gardening start-up kits of gloves, tools and seeds for participants.
Approximately 1,200 Yadkin County mothers, babies and young children participate in WIC, which stands for Women, Infants and Children. The federally-funded program offers nutritional support for low-income pregnant women, new mothers and children up to age 5.
The Yadkin County Rotary Club awarded the project $1,500 this month, and in December the Clemmons Community Foundation awarded them a Shore Grant of $2,310.
The genesis of the WIC Garden idea came from county WIC Supervisor Laken Royall in 2019, when she attended a WIC conference in Henderson County, where the idea of partnering with the local extension office for a teaching garden was presented. Royall already had a get-t0-know-each-other meeting lined up with Beard, who was new to the job, for the week after the conference.
“It was just fate,” Royall recalled.
Initially, the new garden was set to welcome WIC participants in 2020, but the pandemic “put a wrench in that,” Royal said.
Again, fate stepped in. The garden became established, partners lined up and programming ideas evolved.
“With gardens, it’s important to have something there to show people and get them exciting about gardening,” said Hannah Lepsch, Agriculture and Horticulture Extension Agent. “It’s a lot easier to engage people once you have something already growing.”
Garden organizers planted onions, beets, kale, and a lot of leafy greens like spinach at the end of February and look forward to welcoming their first in-person participants later this year to learn about growing produce in small spaces as well as recipes and cooking techniques. The garden will also serve as a volunteer site for the master gardener program.
“There has just been a great amount of interest from people who walk by and see the garden,” Royal said. “I feel like there’s a lot of hope for when clients are able to come back.”
Lisa Michals may be reached at 336-448-4968 or follow her on Twitter @lisamichals3.