Published 12:05 am Saturday, October 28, 2023
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SALISBURY — The Salisbury-based nonprofit Happy Roots has made a name for itself locally, but it’s garnering attention from around the country.
Happy Roots Director Ashley Honbarrier just returned from New York City, where she joined Tony Hillery, an author, urban farmer and founder of Harlem Grown, for his organization’s annual gala event.
Honbarrier described it as an “experience of a lifetime.”
Hillery discovered Happy Roots in 2022 after seeing a post when Honbarrier was reading his book to a classroom at Knox Middle School. Hillery visited Salisbury for Earth Day Jam, where he spoke at the sponsor dinner and held multiple story times for the children.
“I was blown away by his kindness and generosity,” Honbarrier said.
Hillery and Honbarrier have remained in touch. He contacted her a couple of weeks ago and asked her to attend Harlem Grown’s event.
Even though it was last minute, Honbarrier couldn’t say no to the opportunity to “scratch an item off her bucket list.”
Upon Honbarrier and her husband’s arrival to New York City, Hillery picked them up in his Harlem-Grown-wrapped Rivian and took them around to see his organization’s urban gardens.
Honbarrier admits that, at times, cultivating her vision for sustainable farming initiatives in Rowan County can be tiring. However, Hillery’s motivation and the success of Harlem Grown encourage Honbarrier to keep going.
“Tony (Hillery) reminds me when I am discouraged and feel stuck with Happy Roots, he says, ‘Remember. I’ve been there. You’ll get through it.’
Honbarrier said that she has been stressed of late as she navigates her organization’s future.
“I’ve been so busy, overwhelmed and becoming what I never wanted to be, burnt out,” Honbarrier said. “It looks good from the outside, but man, this is hard work, and it’s been a struggle.”
The New York City visit could not have come at a better time for Honbarrier.
“This time spent with my hero Tony Hillery was the medicine and inspiration I so badly needed — physically, mentally, strategically — to move forward and grow,” Honbarrier said. Among the people Honbarrier met in New York City was Neveah, the Harlem Grown’s children’s book protagonist.
“My students will not believe I met the famous Neveah,” Honbarrier said. “I thanked her for being an inspiration to so many all over the world.”
Inspired by what she saw, Honbarrier is eager to transfer those lessons to Happy Roots. According to Honbarrier, it’s been a tough year for Happy Roots, rife with “constant change,” “halted projects,” and “chasing money to grow.”
Next Saturday, Nov. 4, Honbarrier and Happy Roots will have a fundraising gala of their own.
Happy Roots Harvest Dinner will be held at Vista Walnut Hill in Cleveland.
Billed as a “seed-to-fork, farm-to-table, school-garden-to-plate event,” the Harvest Dinner will feature N.C. chef John Wilson of Sophie’s in Lexington, preparing food grown in Happy Roots Rowan County gardens.
Famed N.C. Americana act, Chatham County Line, will provide entertainment for the evening.
This time around, Honbarrier will be hosting Hillery.
Honbarrier is excited about the event but is even more excited to share what Happy Roots is capable of.
“If we can feed 200 people out of two school garden beds, just imagine the possibilities if we really invested in these outdoor gardens,” Honbarrier said.
The Harvest Dinner starts at 6 p.m. For complete information, go to Happyrootsnc.org.