Build It Up East Tennessee is thrilled to work with the Whispering Meadows community for their brand new community garden project! A quick introduction: Build It Up East Tennessee is a non-profit organization based in Northeast Tennessee, hosted under the national non-profit, Grand Aspirations. The mission of Build It Up East Tennessee is to “improve the health of our community and economy and help preserve our region’s cultural heritage through the promotion of local, sustainably grown food. We aim to provide producers with greater access to markets and resources and to provide consumers greater access to affordable, nutritious food twelve months a year.” Starting this year, thanks to funding from Grow Appalachia, Build It Up East Tennessee will be partnering with the Whispering Meadows community in Erwin, Tennessee.
This neighborhood serves as affordable housing for many low-income residents; however, it is situated directly in a food desert, and residents are regular clients of food aid sites. A co-founder of Build It Up East Tenessee, Heidi Davis, met the community last summer when she operated a mobile food pantry bus for the regional food bank. Community members were grateful for the mobile food pantry, but wanted to start a project that gave them better control over their food supply. Out of these conversations, the idea for the Whispering Meadows community garden was born. Build It Up East Tennessee program leaders, Lexy, Heidi, Taylor, Veronica, and Robert have spent the past year working to plan and fund this community garden, in conjunction with the needs of Whispering Meadows. Recently, Lexy and Heidi have been busy meeting with residents, while Taylor has been out on the land—literally mapping out the future of this project.
Last week, Heidi and Lexy arranged a meeting with the complex manager. Lexy writes,
I was greeted by two women at the door; [the manager] had invited them to attend our meeting. They were both very self-effacing at first, but as we discussed the garden, ideas started pouring out of them. Questions like, “Can we have fruit trees? What about a pumpkin patch? Are you going to show us how to can?” kept coming up. Yes, yes, yes was my reply. “This is a community project. We’ve fundraised this money for you, but we really want it to be your project. We will help you create whatever you envision!”
The women who came to the first meeting were full of enthusiasm and great ideas about the future of their garden. Everything from a pumpkin patch fundraiser, to growing fruit trees, to learning how to can/preserve food was discussed. Lexy goes on to elaborate that
Gardening is very important to me, as is the idea of self-sufficiency. It’s hard to know sometimes when first entering a community, if they will be enthusiastic about projects they didn’t create themselves. Luckily, many folks in Unicoi still have memories of working in their parents’ or grandparents’ gardens. They want to instill this food growing knowledge in their children, but up until now, haven’t had access to the land or the tools to do it. It’s awe inspiring to think that with a little money and time, we’ll be able to have very tangible impacts on the lives of a few dozen community members!
Taylor—working outside on the land—is also enthusiastic about partnering with the Whispering Meadows neighborhood. He writes,
I am very excited to get to know the Whispering Meadows community out in the garden we will be creating and growing in together. I was particularly excited to hear that they would like to incorporate fruit trees and other woody perennials into the garden, and look forward to discovering what types of fruit they want to eat! This will be the first time I’ve been involved in the creation of a traditional community garden from the ground up, and so with such a big community, and such a big garden area, I look forward with anticipation to what we’ll dream up together, with hopes that what we create satisfies the needs and desires of the community on a multiplicity of levels for years and years to come.
Taylor’s love of the outdoors and getting his hands dirty kept him busy measuring and plotting the garden spaces. He produced this beautiful rendering of the garden space, with ideas for beds and even a possible food forest expansion!
There’s a lot of work ahead, but we’re so grateful to be partnering with passionate, inspiring people who are ready to get their hands dirty.