SHELBY, N.C. — When Doug Sharp founded the Cleveland County Potato Project 12 years ago, he had no idea his organization would reach more than 1 million pounds of distribution.
Much of his ability to reach such an astronomical number stems from volunteers within the community. On Sept. 4, baseball players from Gardner-Webb University joined the efforts to keep the program going strong, plucking weeds from a potato field on Sulphur Springs Road in Shelby and introducing youngsters to simple farming practices.
Head coach Jim Chester said he was looking for volunteer work for his team and said a connection between Gardner-Webb Athletic Director Chuck Burch and Sharp led to the opportunity.
“I’ve done community service everywhere I’ve been,” said Chester. “We try to do multiple projects throughout the year. We’ve done a lot of work with the YMCA locally in Boiling Springs. It’s our first community service event of the year.”
Chester said giving back presents an opportunity to think and reflect about all that one has and to put ourselves in the shoes of those who are less fortunate.
“Anything we can do to help someone else is a true blessing,” said Chester. “We have that opportunity — we have that mentality anytime we try to work with the community.”
Despite all he has done, Sharp feels like he has left a few opportunities on the table.
“We have the ability to do so much but sometimes we don’t always choose that route,” said Sharp. “I am pleased but working with it so closely, I know that we could have done better.”
Sharp said he chose to produce potatoes because of their longevity and health benefits.
“They are so productive and so good for you,” said Sharp. “You can keep sweet potatoes for a year if you want to. It’s the perfect food as far as nutrition is concerned.”
Sophomore A.J. Jones was excited to lend a hand. The second baseman grew up on a tomato farm in the eastern North Carolina county of Nash and said a hard day’s work is right up his alley.
“This is going to be cool,” said Jones. “It’s really important because we fell in love with this community and I fell in love with it since I got to Gardner-Webb because it means a lot to the people on the team. We are here for the community.”
Dustin Hayes showed up early ready to get his hands in the dirt with his son Olsen Hayes in tow.
Hayes said although it will feel more like a play date for his 2-year-old son, he said it is never too early to instill the value of giving back.
“We enjoy helping other people and I feel like this is an important project the community does to help those in need,” said Hayes. “I think it’s important you instill things such as this in them when they are young so they continue to do it as they get older.”