Nourishing good will is the seed of inspiration for the
Carolina Campus Community
Diane Webster grew up poor, but she cannot remember ever
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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.