Tribal member wins awards for gardening, beekeeping

by Sep 30, 2023COMMUNITY sgadugi0 comments


One Feather Asst. Editor


For Sharon Braswell-Zern and her husband, Leidy Zern, gardening and beekeeping are a way of life.  Sharon, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, operates a farm with Leidy in Yancey County, N.C.

“Being born in the late 40’s, I grew up where most families had big gardens to feed their families,” said Sharon whose grandmother was born in the Big Cove Community.  “The garden was a family effort.  As I got older, I started helping with the canning process. My Mother and Grandmothers are the ones who taught me to can.  This was a skill I was taught so I would be able to help feed my family as I grew up. As an adult I have always had a garden and canned.”

Sharon Braswell-Zern, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and her husband, Leidy Zern, won a total of 29 ribbons at this year’s N.C. Mountain State Fair for their gardening, canning, and honey exhibits. (Photo contributed)

Her favorite things to can are tomatoes, corn, green beans, pickles, apples, peaches, and several kinds of jams and jellies.  She most enjoys growing strawberries, tomatoes, kale, many different kinds of herbs, blueberries, and flowers including Cleome, Purslane, Impatiens, and roses.

“I enjoy being outside planting those tiny seeds and watching them grow into big productive plants. The best reward of canning is opening a jar you have canned and know you made this food.”

Another reward from their labor of love has been winning numerous ribbons at the North Carolina Mountain State Fair.  For this year’s Fair they took home 29 ribbons including 16 first-place, 7 second-place, and 6 third-place.  Over the years, she and her husband have won literally hundreds of ribbons in the Fair.

Also at this year’s Fair, the couple won Best in Show for their canned peaches; three Judge’s Choice Awards for their peach jam, muscadine grape jelly, and muscadine grape juice.

Another of their loves is beekeeping which they have been doing for five years.  Sharon noted, “My daughter-in-law saw an advertisement for a cost-free bee school offered by the McDowell County Bee Club and suggested we sign up, which we did. After the course and passing the tests, I became a North Carolina State Beekeepers Association (NCSBA) Certified Beekeeper. We started with two hives in the spring of 2019.  Today, we have 11 hives which produced 350 lbs. of honey this year.”

They sell products from their home through the NCSBA Certified Honey Producers Program.  At this year’s Mountain State Fair, they won a first-place ribbon for their frame of Capped Honey, Honey Body Balm, and Dark Honey (Tulip Poplar) and a second-place ribbon for their Light Honey (Sourwood).

All of this takes them where they want to be most – nature.  “I feel when you plant a garden you get back to nature. You learn patience as you wait for your garden to produce,” said Sharon.  “You learn to nurture those plants. Then you feel pride when that garden produces fruits and vegetables. Keeping bees is very interesting and beneficial to the environment as pollinators.  All our food is pollenated by bees and other pollinators such as butterflies.”

The Zerns are both retired from working in manufacturing plants.  “We enjoy taking a trip to the beach. We enjoy relaxing by a campfire. We are active members in two bee clubs. I volunteer at my daughter-in-law’s school helping the first graders with reading and going on field trips with them. We enjoy taking a hike in the woods. We are kept busy taking care of our mini farm.  Most of all, we enjoy spending time together and with our family.”