South Charlotte resident builds vertical garden for low-income students

South Charlotte Weekly

Senior Girl Scout Katherine Smith and nutritionist Elizabeth Stamas help Brookstone’s second-grade students plant kale seedlings. Photo courtesy of Michelle Tipton

Charlotte Catholic sophomore’s garden supports Brookstone Schools students, teaches healthy eating

Katherine Smith, a 16-year-old sophomore at Charlotte Catholic High School, built and installed a vertical garden for the students at Brookstone Schools – a private, scholarship-based kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school for low-income students located at First Baptist Church in uptown Charlotte – for her Girl Scout Gold Award project this month.

Katherine has volunteered at the school with her mother, Kathleen Smith, since the summer of 2011. Katherine said the school relocated from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ Amay James Pre-K Center on Lester Street to First Baptist Church in December 2014 and didn’t have as much room for raised garden beds as its previous location, which held 13 on-site garden beds.

She said it became her personal mission to ensure these students, who live in grocery-sparse areas of Charlotte known as “food deserts,” continue to learn about gardening and have access to fresh produce.

“I am personally passionate about healthy eating and how poor eating choices can cause cancer and a shorter life span,” she said.

Katherine said the students enjoyed working in their former garden so much that she had to find a resolution to the space issue at First Baptist.

“The garden space was pretty small and would take away their playground space. I decided to research gardening options that take up less space,” she said.

She said her Google searches led her to find vertical raised beds being used by urban residents in California. She combined ideas she found in several versions of vertical gardens and created her own plan.

After getting approval from Brookstone, Katherine assembled a team of volunteers, including friends, neighbors, family members and her brother’s Boy Scout Troop 162 to help design and build the garden structure over three days at the end of February. The group built a 5.5-foot-by-9 foot vertical garden with four stacked beds, reaching planting depths of 2.5 feet.

The vertical garden, along with an additional 4-foot-by-12-foot raised bed, was installed at the school by the volunteers.

Katherine, along with another school volunteer, nutritionist Elizabeth Stamas, introduced 80 students, kindergarten-through third-graders and eighth-graders, to their new garden during a spring planting event on March 11. The students and volunteers planted radish, beets, kale, collard greens, potatoes, cabbage and sugar snap peas. Katherine gave a lesson on the purpose and production of vertical gardens while Stamas discussed the nutritional value of the vegetables planted.

Katherine said the students would manage and harvest the garden with help from herself and other volunteers. She also said the students eat the produce as a part of their lunch.

Any extra produce will be donated to Friendship Trays, Charlotte’s Meals on Wheels program.

Suzanne Wilson, director of advancement at Brookstone Schools, said they were thrilled Katherine chose Brookstone Schools for her garden project.

“The way she envisioned the project and coordinated a team of volunteers to make it happen was a shining example of good planning and entrepreneurship,” Wilson said.

Wilson added the students enjoyed planting the seeds and seedlings, and she looks forward to seeing them enjoy the fruits of their labor.

“I have no doubt that they’ll learn a great deal about growing as well as enjoy the eating,” she said.

Katherine’s garden project is in the process of receiving a Girl Scout Gold Award, which is the highest award achievable by a Girl Scout. Katherine said the Gold Award requires a scout to find a problem and provide a solution that can be utilized imminently to fix the problem, but also have a deeper impact and use for the community.

Katherine has been a Girl Scout in Troop 3112 since first grade. She said she loves being a Girl Scout because of the service projects.

“Girl Scouts is centered on helping the community and that’s what I have really enjoyed about it,” she said.

Katherine is currently the only Girl Scout in her troop working on receiving the Gold Award.

Katherine hopes to continue spreading the word about vertical gardens and provide a how-to guide on building them. The guides will be available on site at Brookstone’s garden. First Baptist Church also reached out to Katherine about possibly expanding the project for its preschool and church members by using the back wall of the church as a site for future garden structures.

Katherine said she is excited about the possibilities this project brings and might be interested in pursuing a career in health and nutrition. She also said she hopes to continue working with the students at Brookstone Schools.

“I love volunteering my time,” she said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

Kathleen Smith, said, “We are so proud of Katherine taking action to help young students and others across our community to find a way to improve their health as well.”

This entry was posted in Achievements and Awards, Education, Health and Wellness, Home and Garden, Human Interest, Newspaper, Philanthropy, South Charlotte Weekly, Traditional Journalism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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