Urban gardens producing good results

Sarah Harris, a Tennessee Tech senior in ag business from Memphis, and Grace Woodard, a recent Tech graduate in agriculture from Tullahoma, look over some of the tomatoes growing in an urban garden at Northside Community Center in Cookeville.

COOKEVILLE –A collaboration between Tennessee Tech, SeedFork of the Highlands and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture is producing more than just fruits and vegetables.

The Urban Gardening Initiative has brought gardening to the forefront for a population that is far removed from the farm while increasing access to fresh produce.

“Urban agriculture can provide a profitable business model for individuals in urban areas,” Agriculture Commissioner Jai Templeton said. “We are proud to partner with Tennessee Tech and community members for this initiative. Bringing agriculture to urban areas will benefit the producer, the consumer and the community.”

Dennis Duncan, director of Tennessee Tech’s School of Agriculture, and Tom Womack, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, look over an urban garden at Northside Community Center in Cookeville.

Tech applied for a grant with the Department of Agriculture to establish urban gardens around the community. Tech received $14,400 from the Department of Ag and hired two student interns to help maintain the gardens. The sites for these gardens were provided by the SeedFork of the Highlands, a group of local residents who are passionate about local food and who strive to provide education and sustainable access to fresh and local foods.

“Cookeville and Tennessee Tech is the first of what we hope to be many years of programs across the state of Tennessee,” said Dennis Duncan, the director of Tech’s School of Agriculture.

“The objectives of the program are to educate people on how to grow food and grow food locally on a small scale and then demonstrate the health benefits of growing foods and vegetables with cooking demonstrations.”

The urban garden sites are located at Northside Community Center, Christ’s Community Church, Plateau Mental Health Center and Tech’s food pantry. The gardens at these sites produce tomatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, cabbage, peppers, corn, beans and radishes that are given to those who want and need fresh vegetables.

“We have done community gardens before in this area to benefit the neighborhood we are in,” said Neal Marcum, Covenant Church Ministry Coordinator. “We will usually take a day when there are going to be a lot of kids here and pick the produce and give to the kids to take home to their moms and dads. A lot of the adults will thank us for the produce.”

Those who enjoy the produce aren’t the only ones benefitting from the project. The Urban Gardens Initiative also provides Tech students with the experience of running the garden and collecting information to provide metrics on the impact in the community.

“It makes me feel great that people are benefitting from all of the work we are putting in to this garden,” said Sarah Harris, a senior from Memphis who is majoring in ag business. “It’s been a fun process, but it’s been a lot of work as well. I have enjoyed every single minute of it.”

Harris and Grace Woodard, a recent agronomy and soil science graduate from Tullahoma, have been working 15 to 20 hours a week during the summer. They have been planting and cultivating the food that is being produced by the gardens.

“I’m happy to be the one to connect people with agriculture. It is important for kids to know where their food is coming from,” said Woodard. “It’s so important to show kids that their actions have purpose, or their actions have a reaction. When you are taking care of a plant, you can see what is happening.”

The long-range goal of the initiative is to work with local entities to help to make the gardens self-supporting in future years with support from the community by partnering with local organizations.

“We make connections with the community,” said Harris. “I want something people could benefit from. I want to work hard doing a regular job and make an impact in the community.”

SeedFork of the Highlands’ third annual Farm to Fork Dinner is scheduled 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25 at the Dogwood Park Pavilion. To purchase tickets, go to seedfork.eventbrite.comor visit the Green Market or the Backroom Bistro.

For more information on the Urban Gardens Initiative, contact Duncan at dduncan@tntech.edu or (931) 372-3012.

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