Though Spring has only just begun, much has already sprouted on Build It Up (BIU) terrain.

The first Backyard Gardeners Program (BGP) optional potluck Meet & Greet on Sunday, March 20, brought together members of the 2016 program for the first time. Though not all were able to attend the potluck, the room was full of anticipation— and little sprouts who came along with their parents. This first event revealed just how many children of all ages will be a part of their parent’s gardening dreams, thereby passing these skills, knowledge, and stories of tending the land on to the next generation: something Build It Up celebrates.

Upon being invited to share what they like to grow most, answers varied: corn, tomatoes, peaches, blueberries, etc. One mother, Holly Melendez, smiled answering, “children,” with a little one in her arms and six others gathered at the table with her. Their mother has been integrating gardening, healthy eating, and animal care-taking with family chickens and rabbits, into their home learning environment, so she plans to have this program deepen what they have already begun.

Jason and Cassi Lane, along with their five children, were also in attendance. Already beekeepers with chickens on the way, they have a good start on growing their backyard garden and planting edible trees. This year, however, they are planning to truly make care-taking and tending the garden, honeybees, and chickens central to their family’s lifestyle and focus. Their mother comments that she is ready to leave the fast-paced, racing lifestyle that is so prevalent in the United States.

By the end, participants were connecting and new relationships were budding. It is clearly important to new growers that there be a community of support. Build It Up aims to meet that need and to grow a thriving community of people who can support one another in this journey. We are all learning, too. It takes a village to reclaim these skills and grow local food sovereignty.

On the greenhouse front, plants are looking quite happy. These are plants Build It Up has been starting from seed for weeks so that Backyard Gardener participants will have plants to start with in their gardens.

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As for the backyards, the last two weeks, Build It Up’s Taylor Malone has been going yard to yard, helping to make sure that all twenty-five participants have what they need to prep their beds and till if needed. Now approaching the end of those two weeks having met the challenge, it is clear that it is a labor of deep love that mobilizes BIU members.

The last few weeks also began seed pick-ups for Market Gardeners, who are more experienced gardeners in the program wishing to sell some of their produce this year. Participants stop by to pick up seed packets and get to plantin’!

Meanwhile, the local high school students at the Alternative Center are busy bees working with Build It Up members, especially Build It Up’s Sheri Cooper, who is the school’s Employability & Life Skills Coach, to start plants indoors, plant their outdoor garden beds, plant fruits trees and berry bushes, get their rain barrels up and running, and participate in environmental design with artist & BIU member Lyn Govette— a project that will support pollinator populations.

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Speaking of pollinators, we have certainly seen them in the Food Forests, perhaps as excited as the human visitors to discover the first flowering of a peach tree planted from a tiny, determined seed several years ago by Build It Up program leader Taylor Malone. It seems that anyone who sees it cannot help but smile. Perhaps it is the gentle beauty of every petal. Perhaps it is the dream of hope nestled in every blossom.

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The sweet honey bee landing on the first blossoms of this tree’s life.

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Beauty grown from a single seed.

Build It Up keeps a hopeful, steady eye and heart towards the future life that can be grown through our programming. Just a few weeks ago, BIU members, in partnership with Appalachian RC&D, Mountain Empire Literacy Outreach, and a few other local partners, submitted a grant application to the Washington County Community Foundation requesting funds to support children in growing their food and ecological literacy, entitled “Neighborhood Nutritional Literacy and Place-Based Education at Johnson City’s Food Forests.”

There are many exciting possibilities on the horizon, but for now, we keep our focus on the gardens right before us, and the potential each holds for transforming lives—of both the people and the plants we so love.

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The blueberry bush at the Alternative Center flowering…