When most people think about The Nashville Food Project’s gardens, they think about the food grown for use in the meals that we share in our community. Last year alone, our staff, with the help of hundreds of garden volunteers, harvested more than 4,000 pounds of organic produce from our gardens, all of which was incorporated into tens of thousands of healthy, made-from-scratch meals.
But what many don’t realize is that our gardens are also spaces where several communities are coming together in a common desire to grow good food and get to know one another better. Our gardens truly are their gardens—spaces where families and individuals can build connections with one another in beautiful spaces they can call their own.
We spent some time in the Wedgewood Urban Garden (WUG) the past few days and want to share stories from four different communities who come together there to grow food and deepen relationships, and create spaces of their own:
One Friday morning, we joined families from the Refugee Agricultural Program that we support alongside the Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee. We met with families from Bhutan and Burma who grow gardens at WUG. Having been displaced from their native countries, creating safe places is critical for these men and women, many of whom come from farming and agrarian backgrounds. Many of these families had never met one another until they began growing food at WUG, but they have now built a community that grows together and shares the fruits of their labor by exchanging vegetables, stories and life!
While many of the refugee families were packing up on Friday morning, a group of religious studies students from Belmont University arrived at WUG to tour the garden and volunteer. Garden intern Nathaniel led the group around the garden beds, telling them about the incredible ecosystem that we have built there, including bees, chickens, pollinators and even goldfish! The students soaked up the information and then came together to pitch in and volunteer. Many remarked how interesting it was to see so many different aspects of urban agriculture - production gardens, community gardens, animal raising - all together in this one small place.
On Tuesday morning, the garden welcomed children from Harvest Hands for their weekly garden-based education activities. These activities get the kids engaged in the garden so they can learn about where their food comes from and the importance of making healthy decisions when they eat. This week, all-star food project volunteer Linda Bodfish taught the kids about plant families and how they share similar characteristics while also being different. They learned about kale, chard, lettuce and sorrel and experienced the tastes, textures and smells of these green leafy vegetables. Then they talked about the differences between fruits and vegetables and tasted their way through the lower garden.
As the Harvest Hands children left the garden, our Friends from Friends Life Community pulled in for their regular volunteer time at WUG. Friends Life Community is a nonprofit that serves the needs of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We’ve been lucky to have the Friends join us in the garden each week for service learning activities for years! There our Friends learn about gardening and food, and they help us in growing the food we include in our meals. Earlier this year, we began sharing meals with Friends Life, bringing it full circle for the participants in their programs. Now the Friends love their garden time even more because they get to enjoy all of the fresh food they’ve worked so hard to help grow.
Over the course of just two days, we watched in gratitude as each of these very different groups cultivated their own unique communities within the fences surrounding Wedgewood Urban Garden. We give thanks that these communities can come together in this safe space to learn about food, share cultural experiences and work towards their own goals. We welcome you to our gardens and invite you to do the same…