A community garden is much more than just a place to grow food for the community to Marty and Mike Yates, owners of Backyard Organics, located in Canton.
Students from Haywood Community Learning Center are no stranger to the Backyard Organics community garden. Though the students vary each week, four students every Wednesday come to explore the work that is done at the garden and pick up a few tips for their school’s garden.
The Haywood County Learning Center is a school that helps at-risk students by offering a more flexible, individualized high school approach for those who have difficulty adjusting to a normal school environment or who are facing obstacles such as being homeless, pregnant or having to work several jobs as they go to high school.
The school garden is much smaller than the vast space that the Yates’ possess. Due to the limited available area, Mark Ethridge, a science teacher at HCLC and chaperone for the garden days, saw it as an opportunity to teach the students about urban growing and small space gardening.
“We don’t have the luxury of a back 40,” said Ethridge. Marty and Mike Yates assist in the school’s garden as well.
Though their part of the garden is small, the students’ dedication to it and their school is anything but small. Eager to plant and get to work, the team of students worked together to plant various plants in their schools’ satellite patch and within the larger garden as well.
Ethridge believes that learning should not be confined to a classroom.
“We try to work it in so we can do some experiential learning,” Ethridge said.
He believes they are getting out of it what they put in.
“They’re learning how to grow food,” Ethridge. “Everyone needs to grow food.”
Most of the day, the students are behind computers, completing assignments and working on their various courses. Coming to the garden presents the students with a chance to soak up some sun and get their hands dirty.
“I like being around nature, so it’s just awesome to learn new stuff,” said Hailey Lane, 17.
Ethridge has many repeat students, like Trevor Hinson, 19, who enjoyed his time at the garden so much, that he has become Ethridge’s loyal returner.
“Working hard and seeing that you did this,” said Hinson. “You feel you accomplished something.”
The students spoke highly of their school, commenting on how passionate teachers are, claiming that the staff are not only educationally supportive but are also invested into their well-being.
“The teachers will pull you outside and will be like ‘repeat after me: you will have a good day’” said Lane.
“Every single teacher in there is really supportive,” said Hinson. “And they’ll do anything in their way to help us.”
They raved about just how welcoming their school’s community truly is. “We’re one group,” said Mekare Huber, 16. “We’re like a family there and everyone is treated equally.”
Marty and Mike have been invested into the vision of HCLC’s program.
“They heard about our program, so they came to our school and asked how they could help and if we could help them,” Ethridge said. “It seemed to be a perfect fit.”
A helping hand
The Yates saw a need to help with the food insecurity problems that many face in Haywood County, hence their involvement with the Master Gardeners and Haywood Community Learning Center.
Marty Yates, who is a Master Gardener, knows how important it is to educate the community, especially with the current food insecurity that Haywood County faces. So she brought her education and gardening skills to the community.
“All of the Master Gardener volunteers go through an N.C. State extension program where we are taught skills about gardening and protecting resources and how to reach out to the community and help educate them,” Marty said.
Her involvement with the Master Gardeners has allowed their garden to thrive and bring in even more volunteers.
“Backyard Organics started out as a grow to give garden. And for the past four years we did that privately,” said Marty Yates. “Now that I am a Master Gardener volunteer, I have the support of the association and the Extension center, so Master Gardeners can come here and work with us. We are still grow to give. Our produce is donated.
“You don’t need a large property to grow produce for your family.”
She believes that the work they do is a reflection of how to use the limited space you have to grow crops.
The Yates are always looking for new volunteers.
“You don’t have to be a Master Gardener to work or volunteer at any of the community gardens or even at the school garden,” said Marty. “We would welcome anyone from the community to come here, work in the garden and share in the crops or they could even have their own little plot, if they wanted.”
To contact Marty and Mike Yates, email firstname.lastname@example.org.