The fruits of life are amongst us as we relish in the sweetness of flowers in full bloom, plants in full green vitality, and squash, zucchini, juicy tomatoes growing plump. So too, corn, pumpkins, and okra peek out, letting us know that they are just around the corner.

Towards the earlier part of the month, BIU program leaders Lexy Close and Shae Keane completed the Backyard Gardener visits, making the rounds to finish visits with all the family gardens and to listen, learn, and share ideas with the Gardeners. For many Gardeners, this was a helpful opportunity to have individual time to point out and discuss challenges that they have been facing in their journey of growing food thus far— for many of which program leader Lexy Close had suggestions to offer. From Elizabethton to Johnson City to Jonesborough to Bristol, it is evident that the BIU family is truly bringing local foods closer to home.

Later in the month, on July 11th, Build It Up was graced by the presence of Candace Mullins who made additional garden visits along with Lexy Close, who coordinated the visits that opened up the opportunity for about half a dozen Gardeners to get to know Candace, a representative from Grow Appalachia who supports Build It Up’s Backyard Gardener Program—and for Candace to get a glimpse into the lives and garden plots of the families involved in the program.

Garden by garden, Lexy and Candace made the rounds to see everyone, and not only to see them, but in moments to get their hands dirty— at the Melendez home, they even helped pick off Harlequin bugs from the collards.


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They then headed in the direction of Carter County to visit with the organizers of the new community gardens there, a Elizabethton project that Build It Up is very excited about.

In other news, Build It Up, in partnership with Foodtopia, Appalachian RC&D, and Mountain Empire Literacy Outreach, has begun planning and implementing new local gardening, agriculture, and food literacy programming made possible through a recently received grant from the Washington County Community Foundation. Build It Up will be offering programming for children of interested families in the Parkway/Dunbar and Carver Johnson City Housing communities. The programming offered in these communities, called “Sowing Seeds” is one of several local foods projects supported by the two-year WCCF grant. The program will be coordinated by BIU youth program coordinator Shae Keane and Food Forest coordinator Taylor Malone, along with support from high school students from the Alternative Center, ETSU Nutrition students, and MELO members. It will be an educational journey offered for children ages 7-12, that will focus on growing the children’s relationship and familiarity with local food and with their neighborhood Mountain Home Food Forest.

Sowing Seeds Flyer

Yet another WCCF-supported project is one that is designed and coordinated by Build It Up program leader Sheri Cooper, who is the Science Hill Alternative Center Employability Skills Coach. Her programming will offer young people opportunities to advance life skills related to financing, career preparation and experience, and health and wellness, along with continued programming through food literacy, cooking, gardening, and participation in the local foods movement.


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In addition to all of this good news– Sheri has received a greenhouse grant from Lowes, which will allow for an expansion of gardening and agriculture programming with young people. Some of these local food and farm adventures include planting seeds and trees, harvesting to eat, process, and sell to market, visiting U-pick berry farms, receiving and packaging produce from area gardeners for sale to local restaurants, working at One Acre Cafe–a community restaurant with a mission for social justice ( , tending community Food Forests, and the list goes on. Some of her students are pictured with her below– standing in their campus garden, “Raven’s Garden.” Soon enough, they will have their own greenhouse paired with their thriving garden, orchard, and kitchen.


Sheri Cooper (third from the left), along with some gardening students

Build It Up is also celebrating the newest baby plants that have popped up into the world after Lexy and Shae planted them in trays last month. They now await their new homes with the Backyard Gardeners. They will be distributed to Gardeners this month at the upcoming Soil Health workshop.


Baby Cabbage Plants


Workdays continue at the Mountain Home Food Forest with Build It Up’s partner Alternative Community Corrections. Volunteers from the ACC have returned to the Food Forest to see that the seeds they planted in June are sprouting forth! There are few things so precious as witnessing the deep relationship between a person and a new life that they helped to bring into the world. These are the moments that keep Build It Up believing in the work of saving seed, planting, nourishing the soil, growing food, and inviting community into it all.