07/17/12 — WCC Community garden project connects students to futures

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WCC Community garden project connects students to futures

By Aaron Moore
Published in News on July 17, 2012 1:54 PM

With its Sustainable Agriculture program, Wayne Community College doesn't just offer college credits. It's also a way for students to grow their community connection.

The program has a market garden lab on campus, which students use to gain their required experience as well as to grow vegetables to feed Goldsboro's hungry at the Community Soup Kitchen.

"We don't sell anything," said Gabe Mitchell, department chairman of the agriculture and natural resources division at the college. "We just give it to the soup kitchen."

And the best part, he said, is that the crops are healthy, organic and are treated with as few pesticides as possible.

"We only use restricted pesticides," Mitchell said. "It's biological pest management. You try to use the least toxic methods, so there's no residue in the produce."

With more vegetables, cooks at the soup kitchen said they can make healthier meals and sometimes get creative in the kitchen.

Susan Britt, who works at the kitchen, said she has been trying out different dishes, such as stir fry and different kinds of soups and salad.

"We get a lot of people, they are from the streets," she said. "They need that nutrition -- vitamins. A lot of them don't go to the doctor. It also gives them something different, something not from a can."

Ms. Britt said she sees as many as 20 children per day in the soup kitchen during the summer. More than 135 came Wednesday.

As long as people are hungry, Mitchell said he and his students are happy to provide vegetables.

"There's nothing we don't enjoy about it," he said. "We're not only teaching our students how to be productive for themselves, but how to volunteer in their community."

The new associate degree program in sustainable agriculture, introduced last fall at WCC, is designed to provide students with the entrepreneurial and technical skills necessary to manage a community-based small farm or agricultural business.

It is a small program at present, but Mitchell said the potential for growth is there.

During the school year, Mitchell said about 18 students work in the garden and greenhouses. This summer, however, he only has two students -- Azlynn Aycock and Ethan Taylor.

"It's not bad," Mitchell said, explaining how most of the prep work is done during the school year. "Azlynn hasn't had to do anything but pull weeds and keep it clean and take stuff to the soup kitchen."

Ms. Aycock said she enjoys the work because farming has been part of her life for as long as she can remember.

"I grew up on a farm," she said. "I still live on a farm."

Just being able to maintain it is one of her favorite things to do, she said.

Mitchell has also started teaching the children at Wayne Community Child Care Center about the vegetables in the garden.

A group came Thursday morning to learn about where their food comes from and how things like ketchup and spaghetti sauce are made -- something Center director Phyllis Chesson said they enjoy.

"A lot of these children, they don't realize vegetables come from vines," she said. "They think you just buy them in the grocery store."

When asked where food comes from, some children answered "corn," but one boy had a closer answer: "Combine."

Ms. Chesson said the children are talking about fruits and vegetables this week, and she hopes Thursday's visit was the first of many.