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‘It’s just hands-on learning at its best.’ How one local nonprofit made garden learning accessible to families during COVID-19

In 2017, Ashley Honbarrier started Happy Roots, a nonprofit organization in Rowan County dedicated to providing nature-based therapeutic and educational opportunities to the community. 

Since its inception, the small organization has expanded its efforts to make a big impact. 

“We started with one school greenhouse and one community garden three years ago,” Honbarrier said this spring.

Today, the organization has 10 partnerships with local schools, community organizations, and businesses.

When schools closed because of COVID-19, Happy Roots had to adapt its initial plans to do traditional in-person gardening classes at schools. Together with partner Horizons Unlimited, the Happy Roots team created an online course serving Rowan-Salisbury students. 

Ashley Honbarrier, Executive Director of Happy Roots / Photo courtesy of Ashley Honbarrier

This spring, Happy Roots gave 50 home gardening kits to families in the Salisbury area who participated in its online gardening course.

“We’re hoping that this will provide families with an activity to spend time outside together, learn to garden and grow food together, and even cook and eat together,” Honbarrier said.

The online course was provided through Canvas, an online learning platform that Rowan-Salisbury Schools uses. After signing up for the course, families received a 3-by-5-foot gardening bed and seedlings from the Henderson Independent School garden. 

A Happy Roots home gardening kit / Photo courtesy of Ashley Honbarrier

Honbarrier and her fiancé built all of the garden beds by hand in her driveway. 

“So it’s just, you know, grown with love, spreading lots of love and spreading seeds to hopefully lots more gardeners out there,” she said.

“Gardening can be very intimidating to beginners and also expensive, so we just wanted to provide everything that they would need and they’ll make it as convenient as possible — that they’ll love it so much and then gardening will be their new favorite hobby.”

Honbarrier’s passion for gardening education came from her own experience of the therapeutic effects of working outside. 

“It’s just hands-on learning at its best,” she said.

You can learn more about Happy Roots at

Hope Starts Here

Welcome to Hope Starts Here – a podcast produced by I’m Alli Lindenberg, EdNC’s multimedia reporter. I’ll be hosting and producing this podcast — and can’t wait to share moments of hope with you. I started this show as a response to the overwhelming stress news can cause during times of crisis. We need to stay informed, but we also need to take care of ourselves mentally and emotionally. I’m hoping this show will do just that.