Thu, 14 Jul 2016 11:47:00 CDT — by: Kacee Carter
The University of the South is building a partnership between the University Farm and the surrounding community. Although many residences have large yards, our area is plagued with significant food insecurity, 50% childhood obesity rates, and rural food deserts. In our community many people are surprisingly disconnected from their agricultural roots, despite the fact that one of the counties in our program is the site of significant commodity agriculture. Our towns are hollowed out by the global economy, our gardens often lie fallow.
Working with community partners in two counties, we are building the Cumberland Teaching Gardens—at schools, a food bank, and a county jail—that demonstrates food growing and preparation in order to provide access to good food and restoring a rich local food tradition. Through this work we are helping restore a relationship between food growing and healthy foods that address food insecurities, child and family health and wellness, and renewed productivity of the land. We’ve begun the fight against hunger and are seeking more partners to help us reach our goal.
We will be building garden infrastructures—raised beds, low and high tunnels, locked storage, meeting spaces—and creative programs to include workshops on season extension, aquaponics, organic growing, and partner-led workshops on nutrition, cooking, food traditions, and the like. We will combine the work of the gardens with existing projects such as Healthy Bodies Healthy Minds, a curriculum developed and implemented by a psychology professor at Sewanee, and after school activities (Activ8)promoted by the Grundy Health Council. The Cumberland Teaching Gardens will be a place of conversation about shared concerns and shared discovery about how communities can address the challenge of better food, better health, and food insecurity.
A community member at each site will take the lead as a garden manager, coordinating educational events at the site as well as the volunteers and paid helpers to keep the gardens productive. Community partners will be offered seminars and workshops beyond what is offered through the University Farm. The entire program will be supported by four farm-related Americorps VISTA volunteers. Our farm VISTA’s have already made headway on identifying community needs and have outlined plans including mobile aquaponic demonstrations, organic certification, and season extending techniques.
Through the work of professors, students and VISTAs at Sewanee, teachers at three local schools, a civic organization, and a local farmer, several school gardens have been built in the tri-county area surrounding the University of the South. For the most part, these efforts are disconnected and rely on the energy and time of a few local volunteers. Although the University Farm hosts about 1,000 visitors each year, onsite school garden programs and curriculum integration will have a larger impact. Our overall goal is to create a network of teaching gardens, building on these previous efforts, to create a sustainable program to:
Teach children about how food is grown and prepared
Introduce community members to new techniques that will make good food more accessible
Build community identity around shared activity in gardens
Enhance human flourishing
Provide good food to the most food-insecure
While this is a long term project for the University and the community, we expect these initial goals to be complete by July 2017.