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Carolina Community Garden provides freshly grown produce to UNC housekeepers

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A trench for irrigation being dug at the Carolina Community Garden.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly described the process behind the creation of the garden. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.

The benefits of gardening are not limited to freshly-grown produce — it can also be a healing and healthy hobby.

At the Carolina Community Garden, an engagement program through the N.C. Botanical Garden, volunteers aim to connect with the outdoors while growing produce to distribute to lower-wage UNC employees, especially University housekeepers.

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A plot of beets enjoying some fresh water at the Carolina Community Garden.

 

The initiative was founded in 2010 with the original goal of mitigating the detrimental effects of the 2008 recession. The CCG is located off of Cameron Avenue, near the Carolina Inn. Volunteers work in the garden from 3-5 p.m. on Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays each week.

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Cayennne Peppers wait to be planted at the Carolina Community Garden.

Arlene Medder, a University auxiliary services employee and a delegate to the UNC Employee Forum, said Task Force for a Better Workplace, a startup created by former UNC Chancellor James Moeser, first came up with the idea of giving fresh produce to lower-wage staff. 

CCG staff, members from the Employee Forum and community members comprise the garden’s advisory committee, which aids marketing and fundraising strategies.

Claire Lorch, who is the manager of the garden, said UNC housekeepers who are on the committee update the CCG on the state of the garden and how it could be improved. 

Lorch said many of the housekeepers at UNC are from Myanmar. For this reason, the garden grows food that is local to Myanmar and surrounding areas — such as winged beans and persimmons — to show housekeepers an additional level of support.

James Holman, a member of the CCG advisory committee and a delegate on the employee forum, said in a statement that the garden plays a pivotal role in supporting the livelihood of lower-wage staff members at UNC.

“The vegetables grown here supplement the incomes of our staff, offering them a means to bridge the gap left by insufficient wages,” Holman said. “The Carolina Community Garden stands as a testament to our commitment to the well-being of all members of the University community, especially those whose contributions are often undervalued and under-compensated."

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Crops sprouting at the Carolina Community Garden.

Volunteers distribute their produce at least once a week for each housekeeping shift. While food is distributed at the garden, distribution also takes place at the Kennon Cheek/Rebecca Clark Building, which serves as the headquarters for housekeeping.

The produce is maintained through community volunteers, including students, faculty and staff members who help to build garden structures, plant seeds, clear beds and harvest produce. Working with the CCG does not require experience. 

“Gardening offers the opportunity for people to get outdoors, put their hands in the dirt and just really get down to that kind of core — just connecting with the earth. So I think that can be really beneficial to mental health and just stress relief,” Rebecca Beechhold, assistant to the garden manager, said. “We're always stimulating our brain and we're being physically active, no matter what task we're doing.”

Outside of volunteer work with the CCG, the garden hosts workshops and workdays to educate the community about gardening. It also accepts compost donations at compost bins, which are open at all times. The food scraps are added to the soil before planting seeds, Beechhold said.

“I think a lot of our lives are spent either looking at a screen or indoors, and so I think it's really beneficial to be able to be outside and just connect with the outdoors — connect with the other organisms, whether it's the plants or the insects or the animals out there,” she said.

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@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

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