Gardening 101 – Part Three

file000940283052Welcome back to the gardening series! I hope you’ve been thinking deeply on how to start a garden with your family and friends. Starting small is always key and one of the best pieces of advice given by the Master Gardeners.  They advised that you start a container garden if you are very new into gardening or if you can’t afford the space or time to take care of a larger garden.

This post focuses on key health benefits that come along with gardening, including how your body, mind, and soul are maintained while working out on a garden. Physically, your body is moving and muscles, bones, and nerves are all at work. The stretches you make while digging, weeding, planting, and harvesting are all good for the body. Gardening is also therapeutic for the mind and soul because it serves as a de-stressor.  The mind and soul are both at ease and focused during gardening instead of being restless.  These are healthy benefits to the body in the physical sense. However, there is much more to know about the health benefits of the foods we plant, and the impact on our bodies.

Here are six simple reasons why we need to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, including three powerhouse herbs that you should know and grow in your garden:

  1. Fruits and vegetables contain some “miracle” substances that help reduce high blood pressure, heart problems, stroke, and some cancers.
  2. Fruits and vegetables are known to have low or no calories at all. So, snacking on them makes you feel full and look fit!
  3. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and aid in digestion.
  4. Fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of diabetes.
  5. Vegetables, especially the dark leafy green ones, are good for strong bones.
  6. Not only are fruits and vegetables good for our diets, but they are also great for our outer skin and hair!

As for the three powerhouse herbs you should know and grow, why not start with cilantro, mint, and parsley! There are more powerhouse herbs and spices that one can plant along with fruits and vegetables.  I’ll provide more information in the gardening series part four.

Stay tuned…

Maryam Funmilayo is a Program Assistant with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP).  She teaches Faithful Families classes to the adult female members of the Islamic Association of Raleigh (IAR).

Make Valentine’s Day Healthy and Happy

by Lorelei Jones

heartRipplesWhen you think about a special Valentine’s Day celebration, what comes to your mind first?  Was it the chocolate or the dinner?  Probably not.  It was more likely a sweet message from a dear friend or family member, a simple note, a kind gesture, or a fond memory of time spent together.

Rather than load your loved ones up on candy and extra calories, why not give your Valentine a gift they will really remember.  Even on Valentine’s Day, you can make healthy choices that show you care.

  • Write a love note to your child and place it in their backpack or lunch box.
  • Plan to spend time together being active.  If the weather allows, go for a walk or teach your children a game you played when you were their age.  If weather doesn’t permit, plan a special indoor activity that all of you enjoy doing.  It can be as simple as dancing to your favorite tunes.
  • Cook a healthy meal together.  Exchange Valentine notes you make for each other during the meal.
  • Give children stickers, raisins, or pencils for Valentine gifts rather than candy.

 If you would like more ideas to make your Valentine’s Day both healthy and happy, check out these suggestions from the American Heart Association!

Lorelei Jones is the North Carolina Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Coordinator at North Carolina State University.

I heart you.

February 6, 2015

by Debbie Stephenson

i-love-youGo into any grocery store or drug store today and you will find aisles of Valentine’s candy.  You will find everyday candy in red, white, or pink wrappers.  You will see candy shaped like hearts or lips, candy on a stick, candy with writing on it, marshmallow candy, gluten free candy, sugar free candy, cinnamon flavored candy, candy rings and the ever popular, chocolate in heart shaped boxes.  In a 2013 CNN Report on Valentine’s Day, it is estimated that 1.6 billion dollars was spent on candy.  WOW!  Eat a 12-ounce box of assorted chocolates from a well-known candy maker and you will have eaten approximately 1700 calories.   According to, you would have to walk almost 8 hours or jog 3.25 hours to burn off those calories. That’s a lot of money, calories and exercise! It’s time to think “outside the box”!

This Valentine’s Day, why not skip the candy and show someone you love them and their health.  Make your own Valentine “candy” by creating “conversation stickers” (think conversation heart candy) and placing them on fruit.  You could make a fruit basket for your family, your child’s teachers, your office, your neighbors, etc.  Tying a tag on the fruit with your sentiment will work as well.  Some suggestions are:

 ORANGE you glad we met?

Our love is PLUMb crazy!

You’re BERRY special.

I’m BANANAS over you.

You’re just PEACHY.

We make a nice PEAR.

You are the APPLE of my eye.

Another idea is to create an exercise certificate.  Does you child like to ride a bike?  Create a certificate redeemable for a one- hour bike ride, just the two of you.  Does your neighbor invite you to walk and you always turn her down?  Give her a certificate saying you will walk with her (and actually do it!). Does your spouse like to dance?  Sign up for dance lessons for the two of you and present it in a certificate.  Committing to participate in an activity someone else enjoys, shows how much you love him or her.  Plus, think about the health benefits times 2.

Happy Valentine’s Day  and remember to think outside the box.

Debbie StephensonFor more information, Debbie Stephenson may be reached at NC Cooperative Extension by calling 910-893-7530 or

Gardening 101 – Part Two

January 29, 2015

by Maryam Funmilayo

DSC03896Welcome back to the family gardening series. In part one, I briefly touched on the highlights of a family gardening project and its benefits to children, families, and communities. I shared tips on how to embark on one if you are interested in starting a garden project.  I also mentioned the winter seasonal vegetables such as onions, lettuce, radishes, peas, cabbage, most green leafy vegetables, and potatoes. All these vegetables can easily resist the cold temperatures and still blossom beautifully.

Here in part 2, we will learn about vegetables, as well as fruits and herbs that can grow well in a family gardening project. We will also learn about companion planting.

Before I begin, a very good source of information regarding seasonal planting is the Extension Master Gardner program of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service ( Basic information such as a vegetable variety guide, garden care, seeds, transplants, container gardening, garden needs, and supplies can all be found on their website. The website also has additional sources of information on specific topics that might interest you.

As the winter season slowly fades away with the appearance of the cool, breezy, spring season, vegetables such as lima beans, snap beans, cucumbers, eggplant, peas, peppers, squash, and tomatoes, are excellent choices for a warmer season. For those who are new gardeners who prefer to start small, these vegetables can also do well in container gardens which are very easy to start with and they do take up little space.

When the spring season approaches, think highly of the herbs! They can be planted as well without much stress. My favorite ones such as bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, and cilantro, require lots of sunshine and will do well in container gardens too.  Herbs are also great for companion planting. Companion planting involves planting different plants very close to one another. In this way, they provide benefits for one another such as improving the flavor of their companion plants and serving as insect or pest repellants so that their companion plants would not be affected. Basil for example, will go well with tomatoes because its aroma will naturally improve the flavor of tomatoes.

Stay tuned for Part 3…

Maryam Funmilayo is a Program Assistant with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP).  She teaches Faithful Families classes to the adult female members of the Islamic Association of Raleigh (IAR).


Family Gardening 101 Series: Part 1

January 23, 2015

by Maryam Funmilayo

Garden Picture 1Spring will be here in the next few months, and it is time to get ready for a family gardening project. I am so excited because it will be my very first time getting serious about gardening. More so, my children have always been curious about how seeds germinate, flowers evolve, vegetables develop, and how they are picked and prepared to become the food we eat. The good thing is that there is no need to re-invent the wheel by starting from scratch. Thanks to an Outreach and Engagement Seed Grant from the NC State Office of Extension, Engagement, and Economic Development, the IAR Women’s Committee is working with Dr. Dara Bloom and Dr. Annie Hardison-Moody to expand and enhance the Al-Iman School garden, which serves as both a school and community garden.  It is situated on the Islamic Association of Raleigh’s premises.

Garden Picture 3This family gardening project is an excellent project for the entire community. It is a unique opportunity to spend good time with one another. Also, this will encourage children to question natural events that occur during planting and harvesting. I am very happy that the IAR community members have shown enormous interest in this project and are ready to volunteer their time on working on the garden. Homeschooling families, who are always looking for outdoor opportunities, have also shown great interest in volunteering.

Here are some tips I would like to share as you embark on your family gardening project:

  1. Have the intention that you want to contribute to environmental sustainability and revive and support agricultural life.
  2.  Start the garden (if it is new) at the right time. This is very important to the success of the project. This is an advice that was shared with IAR community members by NC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners.
  3. Select a site and draw out a garden plan. This will guarantee maximum productivity and allow each plan room to grow very well.
  4. Measure the dimensions of the garden plot and seek for professional advice from Master Gardeners.
  5. Make sure the soil has been well prepared and avoid planting too early, too close together, or too deep. In addition, watering too little or too much can be harmful to the plants.
  6. During this time of the year and in early spring, it is advised to plant onions, lettuce, radishes, peas, cabbage, potatoes, and a whole world of greens. These particular vegetables do take some frost and cold temperatures without many problems.

Okay, this is it for now. In part 2, I will mention other vegetables as well as fruits and herbs that can be planted for a family gardening project. I have been reading on companion planting and it is amazing how different kinds of plants can benefit one another just like humans do.  I hope to share some tips with you on companion planting in part 2. In part 3, I will mention some key health benefits that you can get from your garden, be it a home garden, school, or community garden. And in the final series, part 4, I will write about organizations that that are involved in giving free monetary grants for new or existing gardens.

Stay tuned!