Father and daughter grow vegetable plants as fundraiser for school

At 7 years old, Norah Smith doesn’t really like eating vegetables.

But that hasn’t stopped her from potting and growing hundreds of individual vegetable plants in her Seymour home with her father, Ray Smith.

The two have turned the family’s dining area into a makeshift greenhouse, covering the dining table and floor with tarps, lots of dirt-filled pots and even several heat lamps.

“We started like a month ago,” she said.

It, however, is not the pair’s first foray into gardening. Two or three years ago, they grew a few plants and gave them away to friends and family.

“But this year, we kind of went a little overboard,” Ray said.

“We counted about 200 pots,” Norah added.

Most of those have more than one plant in them, meaning the Smiths have about 600 total vegetable plants growing in their home, and not all of the same variety.

“We have tomatoes, sunflowers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and banana peppers,” Norah said.

“And watermelons,” Ray added.

Since it’s still early enough, they are even considering planting another round.

This year, Norah is taking a philanthropic route with her gardening and is trying to raise money for her school, Seymour-Jackson Elementary, where she is currently in second grade.

The Smiths are planning to set up a booth on an upcoming Saturday morning outside Darlage Custom Meats in Seymour to give away the plants. Instead of charging, they are just asking for donations.

“When we were setting up the trays for the seedlings, she initially talked about selling them,” Ray said. “I just wasn’t sure about getting people to buy them, so we decided to give them away, and if people want to donate, they can.”

Norah plans to give all of the money they make from the fundraiser to the school to purchase new classroom chairs for students, she said.

They emailed Norah’s principal, Justin Brown, and her teacher, Kayla Elliott, to let them know what they were planning to do.

“We were going to put it on Facebook, and I wanted to make sure it was OK to mention the school,” Ray said.

Brown said he thinks it’s wonderful Norah is sharing her love for growing vegetables and encouraging others to give back to their community.

“Norah is a role model to others at our school and is an outstanding example of what it means to follow The Wildcat Way,” he said.

The wildcat is Jackson Elementary’s mascot and a big part of the school’s culture.

“She is such a kind, respectful and responsible student here at Jackson Elementary,” Brown said. “It does not surprise me a bit that she is sharing such a great message of giving back and serving others through this project.”

Brown said the school is honored to receive the proceeds from Norah’s fundraiser.

“The donation will be put to good use supporting Jackson students and their educational experiences,” he said. “We are so proud of Norah.”

On the first day of school, Norah stood out as a student who cares, Elliott said.

“Even when she didn’t know her classmates, she went out of her way to help others and was eager to put her peers before herself,” Elliott said.

When Norah told Elliott about the vegetable plants project, she was proud of her young student.

“I consider it such an honor to have been able to watch her take this thought and make it into a reality,” Elliott said.

Sometimes, students are the ones giving the lessons.

“Norah has taught me so much this year, including kindheartedness, compassion and how to follow your dreams,” Elliott said. “I am so eager to see her success and am overjoyed to see her compassion for growing plants and vegetables and for her love to help others.”

The Smiths don’t have a date picked out yet for their plant booth as they are waiting to grow the plants a little bit longer.

“Hopefully, it’s a one-day thing and we are able to get rid of them all,” Ray said.

Another idea they have is to do a drawing, possibly for a big pot of strawberry plants.

“If someone donates, their name will be put into the drawing for a chance to win,” he said.

Although they hope to raise some funds for the school, the Smiths have another reason to give away the plants.

“The goal is to encourage other people to grow and share produce with organizations that help feed people,” Ray said.

Each potted plant will come with a business card for norahsvegetables.com, a website Ray’s older brother in Texas is building. The site should be operational soon.

“On the website, we’re going to list organizations that will accept produce as donations,” Ray said. “We’re thinking maybe places like Anchor House, Boys and Girls Club and food pantries.”

Any organization interested in being included can email their information to [email protected].

If they end up planting another round, Ray said they plan to contact Margaret R. Brown Elementary School to donate to the community garden there.

“I think there are plenty of opportunities to share what we grow,” he said.

The Smiths have always had their own small vegetable garden, but after moving to their new home just outside city limits last year, they have more property to make their garden bigger.

“That way, we can donate some of it,” Ray said.

They already have a perfect spot picked out for a pumpkin patch.

“We’ve never done pumpkins before, but the goal is to be able to grow extra of those to be able to give away, too,” he said.

Sometimes, gardening doesn’t always go as planned, though.

“Once, we tried to do watermelons and they kind of exploded,” Norah said.

But gardening teaches persistence, Ray added.

“You’ve got to keep trying,” he said. “We’ve killed a lot of plants, but we don’t give up.”

Planting and taking care of the vegetables is a lot of work, but Norah likes doing it because she gets to spend time with her dad.

“And we’ve still got more work to do,” she said.

“It has been good for both of us to turn off the TV, put on some records and spend time together,” Ray said. “We like to turn on some Johnny Cash and get to work.”

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To be listed on Norah’s Vegetables website or for information about ways to donate or receive donations of produce, email [email protected].