Community gardens sprouting up in north Nashville are impacting urban residents in more ways than one. In addition to providing fresh produce, these gardens are educating residents on the benefits of healthy eating. Entire communities are encouraged to think outside the box economically and inspire their neighbors to rally together.
Whites Creek Community Garden
“Whites Creek Community Garden (WCCGarden) was born out of a community desire to have healthy produce available for the needy in our area,” says Mac Wilson, president of the Whites Creek Community Club and president of the Council of Community Clubs. Wilson has managed the WCCGarden project for the last five years with his wife, Wendy.
WCCGarden operates exclusively on donations and funding through operational grants and contributions – including funding from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA).
Located on 8 acres of metro-owned land, WCCGarden was established in 2012 and provides produce to local organizations including Kingdom Café, Women and Children’s Hope Center at the Nashville Rescue Mission, Joelton Hope Center and Thrift Store and more. To date, the WCCGarden has grown, donated and delivered over 30,000 pounds of fresh produce.
The garden also allows for unique educational opportunities including a field day for Alex Green Elementary School second and third graders, a high school community service day, a university workday and an organization Earth Day project.
“In 2014, WCCGarden formed an alliance with the Whites Creek High School FFA Alternative Energy Academy,” Wilson says. FFA students practiced management skills in the school’s greenhouse by planting seeds and growing bedding plants and assisted with planting, maintenance and harvest for the WCCGarden harvest. The TDA Ag Tag grant provided funds to purchase supplies and award stipends to students. Additionally, Academy students grew 4 acres of soybeans in the community garden, which they used to create a biofuel to power alternative fuel vehicles. The students used their alternative energy project to enter the Ford Motor Challenge STEM Contest two years in a row, bringing home the national first prize both times.
Northwest YMCA Raised Bed Garden
In the spring of 2018, Wilson met with the Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture to discuss the success of the WCCGarden and opportunities to develop additional community gardens in the Nashville area.
“After a subsequent conversation with one of TDA’s ag business development consultants, I offered to create a community garden project in a local identified food desert,” Wilson says. A food desert is typically an urban area where it’s hard for residents to find affordable and high-quality fresh food.
Wilson connected with Northwest YMCA in Bordeaux, an area in Nashville categorized as a food desert, and revived the six raised garden beds that laid fallow on the property for years.
“Since we had a mutual desire to create access to fresh vegetables for club members and raise awareness of healthy eating, I agreed to partner with TDA and YMCA to rehabilitate and plant these garden beds,” Wilson says.
Today the gardens are thriving, and they provide educational opportunities for local residents. Wilson enlisted the help of Elizabeth Sanders of the UT/TSU Ag Extension to teach cooking classes on site and help start a farmers market on the property.
As word spread about the gardens, more people volunteered their services, including Dr. Katherine Y. Brown and her husband, Executive Chef Irving Brown II.
Katherine Y. Brown is the executive director of Roberta Baines-Wheeler Pulmonary Hypertension Awareness Group and founder of KYB Leadership Academy, which is sponsored by the awareness group.
“Our organization is named after my late mother who loved gardening,” Katherine Y. Brown says. “We wanted to sponsor a garden in her memory and contacted the Northwest YMCA.”
Members of RBW PH Awareness Group and KYB Leadership Academy donate supplies, raise awareness and volunteer.
Irving Brown brings his culinary skills to the table, leading cooking classes and educating his students about nutrition.
“As a chef, I love teaching people how to prepare these foods in ways they don’t usually think of,” Irving Brown says. “If we want people to eat healthy, they have to learn how to cook healthy and I love being part of that process.”
Building a Better Future
With a continued emphasis on nutrition and education, the people behind these initiatives hope to see local residents empowered to take control of their health and that of their communities.