The WNC Nature Center has partnered with the WNC Farmers Market to create a new exhibit at its wildlife park. The Educational Farmers Market Garden will provide fresh produce for the animals in addition to educating the public about how agriculture and nature can have a sustainable relationship. The exhibit opened to guests on Wednesday, November 16, 2022.
The partnership between the two attractions began this past spring, and it was a labor of love for the employee volunteers from the Farmers Market. After testing the garden’s soil, installing new fencing, and establishing the garden beds, they planted spring crops. Then the construction began in July to build a kiosk that would share the story of the garden. The education kiosk contains signage sharing seasonal produce that grows in Western North Carolina, a life cycle of the garden, how the produce is used as enrichment for the animals, and agricultural careers that kids could choose to have when they grow up.
“We loved that the Educational Farmers Market Garden was situated across from one of the Nature Play areas at the Nature Center,” said Phil Jacobus, manager of the WNC Farmers Market. “Parents can check out the garden while their kids play nearby and have special learning moments with the family about seasonal availability of produce and North Carolina’s number one industry – agriculture.”
Guests who want to the visit the WNC Farmers Market after seeing the exhibit don’t have far to travel. The two attractions are less than 10 miles from each other. Both the WNC Nature Center and Farmers Market are open to the public 361 days a year.
Using sustainable planting methods including rainwater collection, composting, soil restoration, and companion plants, the educational garden has thrived. Harvests have produced lettuce, carrots, squash, zucchini, cantaloupe, cherry tomatoes, and acorn squash for the animals’ diets and enrichment. The Farmers Market is also working directly with their farmers and vendors to provide watermelon, pumpkins, and trees for enrichment that can’t be grown onsite at the garden.
Nature Center Director Chris Gentile has been collaborating with the Farmers Market since last October, when the idea of this exhibit was planted: “We are so excited to be partnering with the WNC Farmers Market on this endeavor. The WNC Nature Center’s mission is to connect our guests with the plants and animals of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, and because of this
partnership, we now have the opportunity to show how agriculture as an industry has shaped our region.”
The WNC Nature Center and the WNC Farmers Market opened in 1977, and for the past 45 years, the millions of residents and tourists visiting have learned that Western North Carolina is a unique ecosystem of plants and animals combined with a culture as rich as its soil.
The Educational Farmers Market Garden is located above the river otter exhibit on the way to the gray foxes. Stop by and enjoy the new space! You can learn more about the WNC Farmers Market at www.wildwnc.org/wncfarmersmarket.