Workshops help gardeners, farmers go organic

Whether you’re a home gardener, a beginning commercial grower or a professional farmer, if you’re interested in growing organic, then you’ll want to check out the 10th annual Organic Growers School on Saturday, March 15 at Blue Ridge Community College (near Flat Rock). The daylong event will include 36 workshops on practical aspects of organic growing and permaculture, as well as a seed exchange and trade show. The registration fee is $25 (through March 7), $35 thereafter. Early registrants may also order a catered lunch for an additional $11.

The first Organic Growers School, back in 1994, drew about 100 participants, notes project coordinator Elly Wells. “Basically, it was a core of farmers and then some interested gardeners.”

The event, she explains, was organized “as a way to share information. With any kind of growing — and especially organic growing — it’s pretty region-specific. The information that growers have learned just from pure experience in one area is really particular to that area — so they started [the school] as a way for people to share what they’d learned about what worked and what didn’t work.”

And while outside experts do occasionally come to speak, says Wells, “The majority of the speakers are [people] from right here who have practical, hands-on experience — not just textbook experience.”

The event has grown steadily over the years, she notes, and while it still includes most of that same core group of farmers who initially organized it, “a bunch of new farmers have joined that have come to the area. The event also attracts a lot of beginning to advanced gardeners — and because the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service is involved, a lot of their master gardeners in their Master Gardener Program come.”

“Now, there’s 500 people who come every year — including speakers, exhibitors and registrants. They come from mainly Western North Carolina, but also Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina.”

This year, participants may choose any four workshops from among the 36 offered in the following themed tracks: Beginning Gardening, Advanced Gardening, Livestock, Herbs & Flowers, Organic Potluck, Advanced Vegetable Diseases, Food Handling and Cooking, Beginning Professional Grower, and Living with the Land.

The diverse array of workshops includes: “Getting Started Growing Vegetables,” “Small Fruits for the Garden,” “Basics of High-Tensile Electric Fencing,” “Starting an Urban Community Garden,” “Introduction to Biodynamics,” “Management Techniques for Vegetable Diseases,” “Home Cheese-making,” “Introduction to Organic Certification” and “Harvesting the Power of Kudzu.”

The trade show will showcase a wide array of exhibitors and products, including local farms, farmers’ markets, gardening suppliers, cottage industries that specialize in organic products, books and resources for organic growers and permaculturists, and several nonprofit organizations offering pertinent information. First and second prizes will be awarded to exhibitors in the following categories: best value-added food item (hot sauce, baked goods, canned goods, etc.); best value-added nonfood item (herbal soaps, lotions, medicinals, etc.); best packaging for commercial product; best fresh-produce product; best plant (health); best overall exhibitor booth. Winners will be announced during the afternoon.

A seed-and-plant exchange will be open throughout the day. Attendees may bring excess seeds and small plants to share, barter or trade. Seed-saving supplies and recommended readings will also be available.

“Seed-saving and plant exchanges are key steps to preserve genetic diversity and protect regionally adapted varieties,” notes Wells.

The event will be limited to 500 participants, she points out — so early registration is encouraged. Starting March 1, interested parties can check the school’s Web site to see how many spaces remain.

“The neatest thing about the event is the really wide range of people who are there,” emphasizes Wells. “It’s everybody from older, gentlewomen gardeners to full-time professional, organic commercial producers. It’s a really nice mix of people in one place for one day.”

Registration forms are available at the Organic Growers School Web site ( or by contacting the Organic Growers School (258-3387 or

— Lisa Watters

Essay contest explores avenues to peace

If you’re a local high-school student with some thoughts about peace, an upcoming contest invites you to jot them down. And besides exercising your mind, you just might get to bolster your bank account.

The Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council and the Mountain Area Health Education Center are sponsoring an essay contest for Asheville and Buncombe County high-school students on the theme, “What steps can I take to promote peace in my family, my community and my country?”

Essays (typed, double-spaced and checked for spelling, punctuation and content) must adhere to the specifics of the theme and can’t exceed 1,000 words. All submissions must include the participant’s complete name, address, telephone number, high school and class.

All essays must be received by the Community Relations Council’s office (50 S. French Broad Ave., Suite 214, Asheville NC 28801) by 5 p.m. on Monday, March 31. Entries mailed and postmarked after the deadline will not be accepted.

Independent judges will review the essays. The top three finishers will receive savings bonds: first place, $1,000; second place, $500; and third place, $250. An anonymous private donation to the Community Relations Council makes the awards program possible.

For more information, contact Carolyn Stanberry at the Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council (252-4713) or stop by their office (9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday).

— Tracy Rose

Exhibit celebrates River District gardening/public-art project

An exhibit of photographs by Grant Millin documenting a yearlong, grassroots gardening-and-public-art project in the West End/Clingman Avenue neighborhood will be on display through Thursday, March 20 at the Odyssey Gallery (242 Clingman Ave.) in Asheville’s River District. An open reception happens Thursday, March 6, 5-7 p.m.

Participants designed and installed eight neighborhood gardens (with assistance from the Agricultural Extension Service’s Master Gardeners Program); the project also included three public-art installations: a kinetic wind sculpture by Julia Burr, a signature neighborhood tile by Diana Gillispie, and a steel sculptural bench for a neighborhood bus shelter by John Payne.

“It was a wonderful project,” says coordinator Tamara Calabria of Mountain Housing Opportunities. “The idea was to build on the resources that are in the neighborhood [and] celebrate the heritage — and the tradition of gardening in the neighborhood is a big part of that — and build community at the same time. It was really fun and gratifying to be a part of.”

It all began when the West End/Clingman Avenue Neighborhood Association invited residents who wanted to beautify their front yards but lacked the funds to do so to apply for Green Grants from the city of Asheville. The applicants had to come up with a proposal about what they wanted to do as well as agree to do two hours of volunteer service in someone else’s yard or on another community project.

“The idea was that you were to do something that not only enhanced your front yard but that also improved the street,” Calabria explains.

Mountain Housing Opportunities was subsequently invited to join the project; besides consulting with residents who wanted help, the nonprofit recruited local businesses and got the Extension Service’s master gardeners involved.

In addition, says Calabria, MHO also expanded the idea into “an art-and-garden project by soliciting artists … to do public-art projects in the neighborhood, too. … We wanted to build on the energy of the emerging arts industry and bring it further into the neighborhood, not just in the warehouse district.”

Notes Calabria, “A lot of people were really shy about being photographed, but I’m hoping people will be real excited to see the pictures in the end — because they do really tell the story.”

Mountain Housing Opportunities coordinated the project in partnership with the West End/Clingman Avenue Neighborhood Association, Highwater Clays and the Odyssey Center for the Ceramic Arts. The project was made possible through support from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, the city of Asheville and the Steelcase Foundation.

Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, noon-5 p.m. For more information on the exhibit, call Calabria at Mountain Housing Opportunities (254-4030, ext. 22).

— Lisa Watters

AIDS-education event targets African-American community

“Within the African-American community, this [HIV/AIDS] epidemic is growing — basically in our back yard, ” proclaims Charlene Galloway, office manager at WNC Community Health Services. “I think that we, as African-Americans, need to know what’s going on. Especially with the youth — we really need to educate them on how to protect themselves.”

Accordingly, the group is helping organize local participation in the 13th annual Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS (March 2-8), a national educational event sponsored by the Harlem-based nonprofit Balm in Gilead.

“This is our third year of Asheville participating in it,” explains Galloway about the event, the largest AIDS-awareness program in the U.S. that targets the African-American community.

Local participation was initiated by Tim Nolan, a nurse practitioner at WNC Community Health Services. Nolan, says Galloway, “does a lot of outreach on HIV and AIDS. He wanted to get together and talk to some of the local ministers and see if they would be willing to collaborate with us on this event.”

They were — and the rest, as they say, is history.

This year’s activities, slated for March 7-9, kick off with a festival of Asheville church choirs (Friday, March 7, 7 p.m. at Johnson Memorial Church of God in Christ, 25 Forsythe St.).

On Saturday, there will be HIV workshops for both youth (ages 12 and up) and adults from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The day will also feature food, entertainment and door prizes. Registration begins at 9:30 p.m.

“This year, we’re actually bringing down a group out of Washington, D.C., that specializes in workshops on HIV for youths,” says Galloway.

Transportation to the event will be provided from the following locations: Greater New Zion Baptist Church (8:45 a.m.); Nazareth First Baptist Church (9 a.m.); Pisgah View Community Center (9 a.m.); Rock Hill Baptist Church (9 a.m.); and St. Paul Baptist Church (9 a.m.)

Finally, there will be a worship service on Sunday, March 9, 7 p.m. at Hill Street Baptist Church (135 Hill St.) The evening will feature guest speaker Dr. Carl Arrington from the Regional AIDS Interface Network in Charlotte; a reception will follow the worship service. Additionally, says Galloway, “We’re going to recognize some of the ministers who have helped us in the last three years in reaching out to the African-American community.”

The event is co-sponsored by the Baptist Ministers Union, the Interdenominational Ministers Alliance and One Youth at a Time.

To find out more, call WNC Community Health Services at 285-0622.

— Lisa Watters

Free tax assistance for seniors

Filling out tax forms can be almost as bad as paying the money — but for those age 60 and older, the American Association of Retired Persons’ Tax-Aide Program can help. Through Saturday, April 12, AARP volunteers — trained by the IRS and the N.C. Department of Revenue — will be available at a number of sites throughout Asheville and Buncombe County to help seniors prepare their federal and state tax forms.

No appointments are needed to meet with a tax-aide volunteer; simply show up at one of the times/places listed below, with: a copy of last year’s tax forms; verification of expenses and income; any forms showing income they earned or pensions or social security paid them; 1099 forms showing interest or dividends from investments; and receipts or cancelled checks for medical expenses, property taxes and charitable contributions.

The Asheville/Buncombe Tax-Aide sites and hours of operation are as follows:

Mondays – North Asheville Community Center (258-2453), 10 a.m.-2 p.m.;

Tuesdays – Enka-Candler Library (667-8153), 1-4 p.m.;

Senior Opportunity Center (254-6184), 10 a.m.-1 p.m.;

West Asheville Community Center (258-2235), 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m.;

Wednesdays – Pack Memorial Library (255-5203), 1-4 p.m.;

Thursdays – Oakley Center (274-7088) on Thursdays, 12:30-2:30 p.m.

Weaverville Public Library (645-3592), 1-4 p.m.;

Fridays – East Asheville Community Center (298-4990), 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.;

Skyland United Methodist Church (684-7283), 9 a.m.-1 p.m.;

Saturdays – Black Mountain Library (669-2652), noon-4 p.m.

For more information, or to request a visit by an AARP volunteer for a homebound senior, call the Council on Aging at 258-8027.

— Lisa Watters

Money available for former foster-care youth

“A lot of youth who are in foster care — upwards of 80 percent — wind up homeless within the first year of leaving foster care when they ‘age out,'” notes Martin Osteen of the Henderson County Department of Social Services.

In addition, former foster youth are much more likely to be unemployed, incarcerated or single parents than their nonfoster peers, and less likely to receive needed medical care and mental-health services.

Once out of foster care, these kids often fall through the cracks, says Osteen. “[They] lose the opportunity to have follow-up services, because we don’t know how to contact them once they’ve left.”

The NC Links program — an offspring of the 1999 federal Foster Care Independence Act — is actively seeking youth ages 16-21 who were in foster care for at least three months anytime after age 13. The program is designed to provide this population with the funds and services they need to help ensure a smoother transition into adulthood.

Osteen himself is trying to find former foster youth who are now living in Henderson County — even if they were in foster care in another state or county. “Any youth … who presents themselves in any county can say, ‘Hey, I may be in Buncombe County or Henderson County right now, but I was in foster care in Alaska for three months when I was 16.’ By virtue of being in foster care … between the ages of 13 and 21, that county’s [Department of Social Services] is mandated to serve these youth if they’re under 21,” he explains.

Currently available funds include scholarship money (up to $750 per client), general trust account money (up to $500 per client), and “extremely high-risk-youth funding,” (up to $1,000 per client), which, explains Osteen, “covers things that keep youth from being able to work or achieve educational goals or maintain a home … [such as] furniture, utility deposits, tutoring, car insurance [and] car repair.”

There’s also a transitional-housing fund (up to $1,000 per client) for youth who were in foster care when they turned 18; it can be used to make a down payment on a house or to put down a deposit on a rental.

All the funds are renewed each October, and participants may reapply for them every year until they turn 21.

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