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Faculty member, student lend helping hand in Cullowhee Community Garden

Bora and Stefan

Pictured left to right around the solar panel… WCU student Stefan LeClair, Cullowhee Community Garden manager David Claxton, WCU registrar Larry Hammer, WCU instructor Berna Karayaka (Bora’s wife) and WCU professor Bora Karayaka.

By Julia Duvall

When Western Carolina University registrar Larry Hammer began working a garden plot with his family in the Cullowhee Community Garden, he realized that the garden’s water delivery system was not working like it needed to and had not been for years. He also knew exactly who to contact for help.

“There was an existing solar power system at the garden,” Hammer said. “The solar system was designed to be able to pump water from Cullowhee Creek to fill several 200-gallon elevated tanks in the garden to water the garden plots. It had not been working properly for the past 3-4 years.”

Hammer enlisted the help of Bora Karayaka, professor in WCU’s College of Engineering and Technology along with electrical engineering student Stefan LeClair, a senior from Fuquay Varina, to see if they could fix the issue with the system.

Karayaka and LeClair went to the garden to see what could be done.

“The system is designed to provide off-grid power to the sump pump, which goes out to the storage tanks so water is available to the gardeners,” Karayaka said.

solar box

Pictured is the new black box encasing the batteries and converter to protect the system from the elements. It sits on top of a table that was constructed specifically by garden volunteers to hold the box.

Despite flooding that ruined the solar power panel’s converter, LeClair, under the guidance of Karayaka, was able to gather the measurements needed to create a weatherproof box for the new converter and encase the batteries. The box sits on top of a table constructed by other garden volunteers.

“Now it only takes 15 minutes to fill a tank and then get the water to the other storage tanks,” Karayaka said.

The solar panels collect energy that is stored in the battery bank. When it's needed, the power stored in the batteries is converted to standard 120 V current to run the water pump.

“It feels really good to know that we were able to help,” LeClair said. “This is such a tight-knit community and every little project like this makes an impact.”

Karayaka echoed those sentiments: “This garden is so important to the community and helping with food insecurity in our area.”

David Claxton, manager of the garden, was thrilled to have the water delivery system working as it should.

“We greatly appreciate Bora and Stefan and their support for the garden and its mission,” Claxton said. “We have lots of volunteers from WCU, including faculty, staff and students, and we are grateful for their time spent in the garden.”

The garden, which is under the direction of the Jackson County Health Department, charges no fee for community members to adopt a plot. Adoptees agree to only grow organic produce and donate half of their harvest back to the garden to combat food insecurity in Jackson County.

“The food goes to several places in Jackson County including United Christian Ministries and the Community Table,” Claxton said. “We welcome volunteers to come help in the garden or to adopt a plot.”

For those interested in volunteering in the garden, the volunteer hours are Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. until noon.

The garden is located at 65 S. Painter Road in Cullowhee.

Contact Claxton at for more information about volunteering or a tour of the garden.

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