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Community gardens take root in Nashville

Community gardens take root in Nashville

Posted: Wednesday, July 7, 2010 8:01 pm
By: AP

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Vanderbilt University medical student Sabrina Poon saw the same diet-related diseases again and again at the free clinic in East Nashville: diabetes, hypertension, osteoarthritis.
So, she and her Vanderbilt peers launched the McFerrin Park Community Garden on a little piece of land not too far away, breaking ground in May 2009 and hoping their patients would eat the produce.
They can get it at the Shade Tree Clinic or straight from the garden, which the future doctors weed, water and harvest on Saturdays.
“In addition to supplying fruits and vegetables to the community, we’re also trying to create positive lifestyle influences,” said Poon, a third-year medical student. “The most important thing as an organization is to engage the community. It’s really their garden.”
The idea of organic, community-based gardening is expanding in Nashville and across the country. Last summer, the city changed zoning restrictions to permit more urban agriculture in residential and commercial areas. More than 15 community gardens have sprouted in Nashville.
“Community gardens on a national level have increased especially in the past two (years),” said Bill Maynard, vice president of the American Community Gardening Association. “People are having to grow their own food, and people want to eat organic food. It’s good to see Tennessee in the upswing.”
GROW Nashville, a city initiative; the newly formed Community Food Advocates, a nonprofit to aid hungry Middle Tennesseans; and local university extension offices serve as resources for gardeners. They help groups with practical advice about how to pay for gardening supplies, organize volunteers and grow crops.
“Lack of funds shouldn’t discourage a group from starting,” said Vera Vollbrect, director of Warner Park Nature Center, a component of GROW Nashville. There are plenty of people willing to donate time, money and tools, as well as grant funding, she said.
Most people involved say the greatest benefits of community gardens are the beautification of neighborhoods and the fellowship and unity they provide for groups of diverse people.
“Each of the gardens we’ve worked with is unique to the neighborhood and the individuals involved,” said Cassi Johnson, director of CFA. “It’s about community; people from different backgrounds come together and grow food.”
Mary Wakefield, family and consumer sciences agent for the University of Tennessee/Tennessee State University extension office, provides education and training to several community gardens in Middle Tennessee.
She said in urban areas it is rare to grow and find fresh food.
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Fresh produce welcome
Wakefield works closely with the Terrence Murray Edgehill Community Memorial Garden, one of Nashville’s first community gardens. Residents helped launch it in 1993 as a healthy outlet for children in the neighborhood.
“People are glad to have access to fresh vegetables,” she said.
Gigi Gaskins, who founded Wedgewood Urban Gardens on private property four years ago, has seen her attempt to form a model urban garden flourish, expanding the size and production of the plot. She hopes the garden inspires and educates others to get involved and start their own.
“It just seems people treat it with respect. We try to share our knowledge with anyone who wants to learn and listen and participate,” Gaskins said. “It’s a working example of what can be done anywhere throughout the city. It needs to be done 100 times over on a hundred empty lots in Nashville.”
Published in The Messenger 7.7.10

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