Build It Up’s work continues, even as the food-growing season slows. Our most recent grant from the Washington County Community Foundation has supported us in expanding and starting up new programming that we feel is important to growing a culture of local foods literacy and commitment— to buying local, to grow-your-own, to caring about local farms and farmers. We know education is a centerpiece to growing these shared community values.
The Sowing Seeds program for children took off this past month of September. This program, funded by the Washington County Community Foundation, was written with the purpose of offering food, gardening, and nature education and experience for children in food insecure areas of Washington County. It was also submitted with a focus on place-based education— meaning that we found it important that the children we offered this program to first were those who are also living in the neighborhoods surrounding this particular Mountain Home Food Forest.
In this way, we hope that they will be coming into relationship with this place of public food – learning how to identify, harvest, and cook the foods that grow here within walking distance of where they live. And we see these children as young leaders, full of potential, to also connect their community with this Food Forest space as a place of food, of community gathering, and of beauty, where the nourishment of nature is accessible, even in the city.
During the second week of the month, we hosted our first parent meeting. Luckily, the Food Forest watermelons were perfectly ripe for the occasion! We harvested them and had them available for the kids and parents who attended the meeting. A few of the children saved the seeds in their mouth, spit them into their hand, and ran over to nest them in the ground and water them. The seed-planting spirit seems to come naturally to young ones, something that inspires me deeply.
Then, the following week, on September 13, the Sowing Seeds program began!
We are incredibly grateful for our partners, the ETSU Nutrition students who support us as teachers in this program.
With them, we are able to all divide up and go door-to-door gathering the children from their homes in the Carver/ Dunbar/ Parkway neighborhoods of Johnson City Housing. Our numbers grow as we walk around until we are all accounted for, then we make the journey across the street to the Food Forest. When we get to the bottom entrance, they usually take off, running in excitement. This is one of my favorite parts.
(Above photo: Children plant seeds and write and draw in their journals about their experiences, feelings, observations)
The past classes with them we have focused on food identification, compost, becoming familiar with the land, planting fall seeds, observing the changes of the season, and establishing community agreements about how to be towards one another and towards the Food Forest.
One of our interns and teachers, Anastasia, shares about the Bowl of Community Care & Leadership with the kids. The children can earn pine cones for their acts of kindness, care, and leadership. When the bowl if full, there will be a class celebration.
Most recently, this past week, we have begun our section on seed-saving. In the coming weeks the children will begin creating their own seed libraries into which they can organize the seeds that they save.
(Photo below: We talk about the anatomy of a seed, and the life that resides within it. The kids color a closeup of the seed, and learn the words for its different parts.)
(Photos Above: The children color in and label a seed and its different parts. The teachers split up and help them with more individualized teaching.)
Another joyful moment for Build It Up came after this past week, when we hosted our “Food Forest Friday” event. The vision for this type of event at the Mountain Home Food Forest came to BIU program leaders Shae and Taylor over a year ago, before they were well-acquainted with the children and their families. They had a vision for people coming together, from all different backgrounds and experiences, to be connected through the food, the plants, and this community gathering space. They went for the idea a year ago, and much to their disappointment (and humor later), only one person showed up in attendance. However, this made it all the sweeter when this past Food Forest on September 30th brought out more than 50 people to celebrate and appreciate local foods and the changing season—the gifts to come and the gifts that have come to pass of this last summer season.
(Below: Lots of behind-the-scenes prep happens for these important community events– thankfully, Build It Up program leader Sheri Cooper has initiated a partnership that allows local young people to be compensated for their work supporting what we do. In this way, they are developing their skills, and they are helping us tremendously!)
(Below: much to our surprise, the children showed up early with anticipation, and excitedly helped us decorate for our first Food Forest Friday Community Event. That was beautiful. We hope this is passing on to them important lessons of their own power of community leadership and organizing.)
It was a beautiful event where we were able to offer cooking around the hearth fire and a handcrafting candlemaking project– intentional choices to foster connection. We carefully selected for treatment-free beeswax that would serve as not only candle light through the colder, darker months, but also could be a source of education and connection to nature for the families. We were overjoyed at the turnout.
Over at the Science Hill Alternative Center, Build It Up leader Sheri Cooper is on fire with ideas, commitment, and inspiration to expanding opportunities for her students, especially in the realm of gardening, farming, cooking, and local foods community organizing. Cooper recently received funding from Lowes to build an on-campus greenhouse, which is now in place. She also received funding through a grant she helped to write some months ago, which allows her to pay her students for the work that they are doing at the Food Forest, at the Alternative Center garden, packaging and preparing local foods, etc.
Thus, Build It Up now has several interns who have been supporting their work, one in particular who supports our Sowing Seeds programming and is great with the children. This mutual relationship provides support for BIU programing and events and also, experience for the high school students to explore different areas of work and build on skills that will be useful in their career paths— all while being compensated.
(Above: The high school students also help to prep the food for community events. We make it a priority, when it comes to food, to provide event foods that are as-local-and-organic-as-possible. These potatoes are actually from the Food Forest, where the event was hosted. We then created small card with a bit of the story of each dish, in hopes of helping people to connect with their foods.)
Lastly, Build It Up hosted our final workshop this past month of September for the 2016 Backyard Gardeners group. It is hard to believe, and for our families too, that our year gardening together has come to a close. Though, like seeds planted, we know we all will continue to be connected through the web of local foods, gardening, and a shared vision and commitment to foods grown closer to home.