Willow Spring, N.C. — Amid high grocery bills and bare food-pantry shelves, a new industry called garden sharing has taken root in elementary schools and in communities.
Megan Lewis, a teacher at Willow Springs Elementary, wanted to create a garden so students could learn first-hand where food comes from.
"Today, so many kids are not outside," Lewis said. "I grew up digging in the dirt and trying to get to China, and they just don't do that anymore."
Seed money came from a $4,000 grant from Lowe's and a $200 gift from the Fuquay-Varina Women's Club. A donated shed, volunteer work by master gardeners and help from numerous businesses and community groups acted as fertilizer. And Lewis' Grow Zone sprang to life.
"Kids are learning to eat their vegetables ... and it's because they grew it," Lewis said. "I've had so many parents come up and say, 'What did you do? My daughter is asking for yellow squash. What do I do? How do I cook it?'"
"I think the food over in this garden tastes a whole lot better," explained third-grader Jakob Price.
The children soon learned that their gardening could help others as well. After extra food went to waste last year, Lewis and the children will donate any extra harvest to the Fuquay-Varina Food Pantry this year.
"I think it's really nice we're doing that, because they don't have things like everybody else has," third-grader Leah Clark said.
The tough economy also got aspiring gardener Kay Whatley, of Zebulon, thinking about garden sharing. She started GrowandShare.org and hopes to set a good example. "Just take time to put a couple of plants out or put a small garden out and then share it with their neighbors," she suggests.
"It's an effort to try to get everyone to pitch in a bit. If we can grow a little bit and give it to the neighbors, they eat; we eat," Whatley said. "It just seems like the way it should be or used to be."
Whatley's garden has sprouted more than 2,000 plants, fertilized, in part, by donations including a two-acre plot. She distributes seeds and starter plants throughout the community and asks each grower to sign an agreement that they, too, will share their harvest.
"So many people have stepped up. ... We open up our mail, and somebody sent us their leftover seeds," Whatley said. "I think it makes everyone feel good," Whatley said.
"And it's definitely better. I'd rather eat tomatoes from here, rather than ones that have left a big carbon footprint or (been) sprayed with who knows what."
Grow and Share will soon start distributing vegetables every Saturday at Pilot Baptist Church in Zebulon.
"This really is a community project," Lewis said. "It started with a tiny seed as a thought, and it just grew so much."