If you rewind 100 years, a family in rural Western North Carolina relied mainly on farming as their primary source of income. Children were taught from a young age about how to grow and harvest crops as well as do other chores around the farm. 100 years later, in 2017, this trait seems to be vanishing because of the easy access and availability to fresh produce. Ryan Gaither, social studies and science teacher at Marble Elementary School located just outside of Andrews, NC, wanted to change that.
In March, Gaither partnered with Christina Newhouse, Southwestern NC RC&D’s agriculture specialist, to bring the farm to the 3rd-5th grade students at Marble Elementary in the form of a two-week class. During week one, Newhouse began the class by teaching the students about companion planting. To better explain the topic, students read the Cherokee Indian story of the Three Sisters. In the story, the Three Sisters represent a certain type of crop and in the end, all Three Sisters learn how to grow in harmony. Once the students had a better understanding of companion planting, they planned their own gardens on paper. During week two, the students began planting in the school’s garden. Newhouse prepared a special plan for each grade’s raised plant bed that incorporated the companion plants they had learned about during week one of their class. The students planted various fruits, vegetables, and herbs like strawberries, onions, cabbage, snap peas, chives, and garlic. “All the plants used were from local sources,” said Newhouse. “I hired Candy Mountain Farms to grow the organic transplants for this garden. It’s all about farmers working with farmers to build a strong relationship with our agricultural community!” Southwestern NC RC&D contributed to the project by purchasing seeds and organic soil as well as landscaping material and wheat straw from a local feed store, Wayne’s Feed & Seed, to implement organic weed control.
“It was great to collaborate with Ryan Gaither and his students! It helped to tie in the agriculture community with these kids.” Newhouse said. “It was so much fun working with these kids! This was my first time being able to teach children.” After all the planting was complete, the students were eager to harvest their crops. “I think it’s important for kids to learn where food comes from.” said Gaither. This project was a huge success because not only did it teach these students a valuable life skill but also helped them to connect with Western North Carolina’s rich agricultural history.