Growing Solutions | Eastern North Carolina Now

Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Spaine Stephens.

A community garden created by a School of Dental Medicine alumna at Gentry Farms 1821 in Ashe County has yielded 360 pounds of produce that fed 70 families. | Photos: Contributed

Dr. Amanda Stroud, School of Dental Medicine Class of 2015
    In a garden that grows upon a ribbon of old family farmland in the mountains of Ashe County, dreams are harvested alongside vegetables.

    The garden is a vision nurtured by Dr. Amanda Stroud, a member of the ECU School of Dental Medicine's inaugural Class of 2015 and dental director for AppHealthCare in northwestern North Carolina. Even during her dental school days, Stroud had a clear image in her mind's eye of a dental office that would provide oral health care — and yet so much more — for its community.

    Stroud wanted to address the food insecurity she witnesses in some of her dental patients and local families. With the help of partnerships, resources, energy and patience, she created the AppHealthCare Community Dental Garden, which this year yielded 360 pounds of produce and gave 70 families access to healthy food.

    "All this started in dental school," Stroud said.

Growing a bounty

    Each of North Carolina's three regions welcomes dawn in its own colorful way. The early-morning glows are cast upon either Appalachian ridges, cityscapes or sand dunes. In the mountains, the air is its own hue. Fog plays in shadows of fresh peachy light caught in the hills' crevices.

    A .25-acre garden plot sits on land at Gentry Farm 1821 in Nathans Creek, an Ashe County farm owned and run by Amanda Gentry and her partner, Wendy Painter. Gentry is a fifth-generation steward of the family land and is president of the Ashe County Farmers Market.

    When Stroud reached out to Gentry after the project outgrew Stroud's first garden outside her dental office last year, the answer was simple.

    "Our mutual goals fit perfectly," Gentry said. "Dr. Stroud knew about Gentry Farm and our commitment to raising quality healthy food and our interest in getting as much healthy food out into the community as possible. She had initial success with her office garden and wanted to expand."

Produce sits on a dental chair, awaiting the patient who will take it home.
    Stroud had seen patients who were experiencing hunger and food insecurity and wanted to do something about it. The idea took root years earlier when Stroud was in dental school and was asked to complete a class assignment using the question, "What do you want to see your dental office become?"

    She pictured a welcoming, bustling office that would also serve as a community-based center — with lively art on the walls, children's events and activities and a garden outside. That feature was vital to the plan because Stroud anticipated such a need across her community, a trait of her health and public service-minded goals that urged her to find a solution to an all too common problem.

    "We live in a beautiful place — scenic and historic — yet we have poverty and all of the issues that go with it. Food insecurity is one of them," Gentry said. "This garden provided food to 70 families. Fresh, healthy food, which is key to health and general well-being. Nourishing food, full of vitamins and nutrients, is so important to the health of our community."

    According to studies by Feeding America, one in seven North Carolinians struggles with hunger; one in five children experiences food insecurity. According to the North Carolina Justice Center, the state has the 10th highest rate of food insecurity in the nation, with nearly 590,000 households without enough to eat.

    Stroud created the garden for them and managed to crop up a harvest that made a difference — even during a pandemic.

    "We significantly down-sized our plan due to COVID," Stroud said. "We almost postponed the garden altogether until next year, but thanks to Amanda Gentry and her flexibility at Gentry Farm, we were able to move forward on a smaller scale."

Bloom where you're planted

    Stroud and her team of volunteers and family members planted zucchini, yellow squash, beans, potatoes and other vegetables with sturdy shelf lives.

    Photos document every step of the garden project from soil freshly prepared for planting to a neatly tied bag of vegetables sitting on a dental chair, awaiting the patient who will take them home. Other pictures captured tendrils of flowering beans growing skyward and zucchini blooms splayed wide on thick stalks.

Stroud and her son, Anderson, spread hay in the Ashe County garden where Stroud grows vegetables for dental patients with food insecurity.
    One photo shows Stroud working the land, spreading hay — her son strapped to her back, surveying the scene. Both look at home in the garden, a sense that began for Stroud not far from Ashe County. A native of Happy Valley in nearby Caldwell County, Stroud makes her home just a stone's throw away in the high country of Boone.

    Stroud sought every opportunity to make a difference during dental school, when she was honored as part of ECU's Servire Society. Part of the school's first class, she was also in the inaugural group of North Carolina Albert Schweitzer Fellows, graduate health professional students who serve vulnerable populations throughout the state by addressing health needs through sustainable projects.

    Stroud is now president of the N.C. Dental Society Foundation, which, through financial contributions and volunteerism, works to improve oral health for North Carolinians. As dental director for AppHealthCare, Stroud serves patients while strategizing ways to reach as many people as possible through school screening programs and a mobile dental clinic.

    AppHealthCare's Dental Health Services provides dental care for the communities of Alleghany, Ashe and Watauga Counties, located in northwest North Carolina. A variety of preventive and restorative services are offered that meet the unique needs of each patient. Services are provided through a fixed clinic site in Ashe County and a portable dental van that travels to school sites throughout the three counties.

    "We are grateful for the steadfast and passionate leadership of Dr. Stroud and her team who strive every day to provide high quality and compassionate dental care to our community," said Jennifer Greene, health director of AppHealthCare. "Dr. Stroud's energy and creative approach to meeting the community's needs are just part of what makes her an invaluable asset to Alleghany, Ashe and Watauga counties."

    Stroud's garden has proved to be an invaluable resource to the people of her community, a label that others give Stroud herself.

    "There is no one like her," Gentry said. "Her energy level and commitment to community is unique. Her enthusiasm and dedication are infectious. She is an inspiring leader and a great partner."

Sowing service

    The ECU School of Dental Medicine attracts students with the service-minded spirit that molds great leaders. The school shapes them into critical thinkers and doers who take the school's mission and bring it to life.

    "We want them to be uplifting their entire community," said Dr. Margaret Wilson, vice dean of the School of Dental Medicine. "The impact of our students and alumni as leaders goes well beyond their professional skills as dentists."

Zucchini blooms in the Ashe County garden where Stroud grew food to help fight hunger in her community.
    What stood out about Stroud as a student, Wilson said, was her consideration of the factors that affect communities, including social determinants of health — conditions in the environments in which people are born, live and age that affect health and quality-of-life outcomes.

    "Her mission alignment was exquisite," Wilson said. "What she's doing now speaks volumes."

    Dental students like Stroud, Wilson added, become in essence "community service entrepreneurs," identifying a need and mapping out a solution.

    "They come up with things you'd never think of before," Wilson said. "It's all part of understanding the social determinants of health. Yes, Dr. Stroud is doing great things as a dentist. But she's also looking at it from a broad community perspective."

    Stroud is working on ways to maximize the garden's benefits for as many people as possible.

    "None of us works alone; we work as a community to help our neighbors," Stroud said. "We're proud of what the garden has helped us do for our neighbors this year. I'm looking forward to watching the fruits of our labor multiply for the good of our community in the coming years."

    For more information on the AppHealthCare Community Dental Garden and how to support it, please contact Dr. Amanda Stroud at
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