While there are obvious benefits to consuming fresh produce, these cooperative gardens offer more than fruits and vegetables.
“These gardens benefit the community by providing opportunities to learn how to grow, harvest and prepare their own food,” says Dr. Dennis Duncan, director of the Tennessee Tech School of Agriculture. “They also teach people about the health benefits of eating local and how they can generate income by growing and selling produce.”
When Dr. Duncan pitched the idea of launching urban gardens in Cookeville and its surrounding areas, TDA was eager to support the cause. They awarded the university a $14,400 grant, which was used to launch four garden sites.
While agriculture remains the largest industry in the state, there are pockets of Tennessee where access to fresh, nutritious food is challenging. Known as food deserts, these communities are often characterized by low-income residents who must settle for unhealthy choices due to the typically higher cost of better options or the physical distance to the nearest grocery store.
Organizations like SeedFork of the Highlands are aware of these food deserts and stepping up to address the issue through partnerships with TTU and TDA as well as their own organizational initiatives.
“Our vision is to introduce the concept that food can be transformative in the lives of individuals and for communities as a whole,” says Randy Dodson, SeedFork president. “These gardens are located in nontraditional settings. They’re reaching populations that wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise to benefit from fresh produce.”
SeedFork also created a mobile food trailer in 2017.
“Through our cooperation with the faculty and students at TTU, the trailer was built as a mobile cooler used to pick up and deliver fresh food to those who would otherwise not have access to nutritious local produce,” Dodson says.
Built from a 10-by-10-foot cooler, the trailer can hold more than 25 bushels of produce. While the trailer goes a long
way in providing food to communities in need, SeedFork believes the urban garden expansion will bring the state even closer to closing the gap between food deserts.
“These gardens are just the beginning of our efforts to bring gardening knowledge and experience to a wide range of neighborhoods and communities,” Dodson says.