Build It Up East TN:

Taking Food Into Our Own Hands, Close To Home.


“[Growing plants] is really about teaching them [her students] how to nurture themselves,” she says. She adds, “If you don’t understand, go plant something.”

–Sheri Cooper, Build It Up member and high school teacher


It is that time of year again— Spring seed plantin’ time! Build It Up begins its second year of early seed starting in the greenhouse. The first seeds of the year are being planted— the very first of which were started in early February with the help of Build It Up members and high school students.



A big thank you to Science Hill High School—the local high school that is allowing us a second year of shared space in the greenhouse. This allows us to start plants for our backyard garden program participants. Thus far, we have started the following vegetables: several types of kale and cabbage, asparagus, German Thyme, Poc Choi, Asian Greens, collards, and celery.


(Above: onion seeds sprouting, over a period of a little under two weeks. Life sprouting!)

One Build It Up member Sheri Cooper is also a teacher for the Science Hill Alternative Center. She is devotedly committed to her students and guides them in a creatively engaging way— seed starting, food growing, harvesting, and selling. It isn’t the typical high school experience, but it is one that enriches the lives of her students. The roots of her values beneath this approach run deep. She says that she plants seeds “…because I feel like I am responsible for the proliferation of life.” For Sheri, it isn’t just about teaching young people how to care for plants, “It’s really about teaching them how to nurture themselves,” she says. She adds, “If you don’t understand, go plant something.”

She explains the way these roots run into the classroom—with lessons of life and death sitting in pots or seed starting flats. She tells of the Arugula seeds planted in her classroom. Though, so many seeds sprouted that not all of them were able to make it. She speaks of how students observe what transpires in the growth and death of the plants, “so they know that not all of them can make it—and that it’s okay because the ones that don’t make it still have a purpose…” By dying, they deliver nutrients back into the soil, “so they compost into an even bigger, stronger plant.”


Teacher and Life Skills Coach Sheri Cooper joins students planting seeds in the Science Hill Greenhouse.


One of her students, Mason Moss, age 17, says he loves farming and gardening “so that you can grow your own food and watch it grow from seed.”


Moss (left) and Spencer (right), two of Cooper’s students, work together to prepare coco coir for the seed starting mix.


That’s not all that is sprouting in Build It Up’s corner of Tennessee— currently, we are also in the process of conducting site visits and interviews, more than twenty-five different homes and gardens, with applicants who have applied for the 2016 backyard gardeners program. Out of all the applicants, the program has the resources to support seventeen families and individuals who will be selected in the next few weeks. Soon after, workshops, collaborative community planning, and working the garden lands will begin.


Thus, like Sheri, roots run deep. Gardening for simple enjoyment, yes— though there is a deeper vision beyond that: a movement of continuing to empower beginning and aspiring gardeners to grow their own foods and eventually, have some of them selling in their communities as well. Food sovereignty and access. Community collaboration. Dirty hands and inspired hearts. Real foods for our bodies. Our stories tucked into the seeds we plant. Mending broken food systems. Taking food from corporate hands, and into our own.


Building It Up, one backyard at a time.