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Nourishing good will is the seed of inspiration for the
Carolina Campus Community Garden

Diane Webster grew up poor, but she cannot remember ever going hungry.

She was the 14th of 15 children her parents raised in Rougemont, a small community in northern Orange County. The family also raised most of what appeared on their kitchen table. Webster, like her older siblings, found herself working in the vegetable garden and tobacco fields by the age of 6.

Rieth

Above, Carolina graduate and community volunteer Ben Rieth picks string beans during the July 4 work day.

Below, Housekeeper Patricia Noell, left, and Stanley Watson, a member of the floor crew, show off their vegetables from a recent distribution from the Community Garden.

Above, Punita Nagpal, a research assistant professor of biology, and her twin daughters, Olivia and Iris, spray a non-chemical bug repellant in the squash patch during an early-August work day when temperatures approached 100 degrees.

Below, garden coordinator Claire Lorch, left, and  Diane Webster, a social research specialist at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, set up tubs of vegetables to be distributed at the Kennon Cheek/Rebecca Clark Building on Cameron Avenue.

A longing for simpler times long past is part of the reason Webster has regularly volunteered this spring and summer in the Carolina Campus Community Garden. It also has been a learning experience of sorts, a way to rekindle skills that once were passed down from generation to generation in order to survive.

Webster, a social research specialist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, now has three grown children. Her oldest daughter Briana, a 2004 Carolina graduate, recently joined Webster to work in the garden while visiting from Washington, D.C.

When Briana asked her mother to teach her to can vegetables from a garden, Webster had to admit that although she watched her mother can years ago, she did not know how. Now, with their renewed interest in gardening, it is a skill Webster hopes mother and daughter can learn together.

But the primary reason Webster is a regular in the Community Garden became even more real to her on a recent Thursday afternoon when she helped Claire Lorch haul tubs of vegetables for distribution at the Kennon Cheek/Rebecca Clark Building on Cameron Avenue.

Lorch championed the idea for creating the garden and for the past year has served in the part-time position as garden coordinator through the North Carolina Botanical Garden, which serves as the University’s official sponsor for the initiative. The botanical garden is responsible for fiscal oversight and supervision of the project.

Lorch said campus support for the garden has never wavered since March when some 75 people, including faculty and staff members, students and community neighbors, spent a large part of one weekend working the soil to create 25 plant beds in the 8,000-square-foot garden, which is located at the end of a University-owned vacant lot on Wilson Street near the western edge of campus.

Lorch relies on the steady help of volunteers who work during two-hour blocks of time on Sunday and Wednesday afternoons to tend to necessary watering, weeding and picking.

Since early summer, there have been twice-a-week food distributions directed primarily toward the University’s housekeepers, traditionally among the lowest-paid employees.

As Lorch and Webster set the tubs on the back loading dock, housekeepers formed a queue in the parking lot and waited to take a turn filling a plastic bag with food.

Most recipients show up to pick through the crates of fresh vegetables once in a while. Not Patricia Noell, a housekeeper at the Environmental Tech Building.

“I’m here every time she (Lorch) comes,” she said. And as Noell walked to her car, she stopped to see what goodies Randy Barbee, who works in her building as a member of the floor crew, stuck in his. Barbee’s bag contained apples from a tree on the lot and tomatoes, which provoked a teasing commentary from Noell: “He’s a man, he don’t know how to cook. Women know how to cook. I’ve got basil, tomatoes, squash and okra.”

Noell said these free fresh vegetables spare her the expense of buying them at the grocery store. And a day or two before payday, when her refrigerator is nearly as bare as her wallet, Noell has more than once turned half a squash into a full meal.

“You can eat squash with anything,” Noell said, although she prefers it with eggs.

As Webster has learned, you don’t have to get vegetables from the garden to take something good from working in it. There is a shared purpose, a bond that grows from joining hands to make a small difference in the lives of others.

“You don’t have to be born with a silver spoon to enjoy healthy foods,” Webster said. “The Community Garden provides the opportunity for everyone, regardless of their income, to experience a healthy lifestyle.”

Noell said she wants people to know that their efforts are appreciated.

“Sometimes, it is hard for us to eat good because we can’t afford to eat good,” she said. “This right here helps and I am glad they are doing this for us.”

In addition to the botanical garden, partners for the Community Garden are the Employee Forum, Gillings School of Global Public Health and Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. For information about the garden and how to be involved, refer to sites.google.com/site/uncgarden/home.

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INSIDE THE PRINT EDITION:
Aug. 25, 2010

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TOP STORIES

* *‘Hark, the Sound’ of a new school year

* *A passion for making a difference led to psychology professor Steve Reznick’s sterling record of service

* *Nourishing good will is the seed of inspiration for the Carolina Campus Community Garden

* *Hettleman Prize winners span the arts and sciences

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