Rooted in Community

By Christy Ulmet

Jael Fuentes sits on the couch in the front room of her house, drinking a smoothie she made from organic fruits and vegetables. Through the window, she looks out at the North Hill community garden where she grew many of her ingredients.

Fuentes lives in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood, which borders Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. Not only is Chestnut Hill one of the poorest areas in the city in terms of household income, but it is also one of the poorest in terms of access to nutrition. The area is considered a food desert. The closest stores are high-priced convenience shops with inadequate produce sections, but they are often the only option for those without reliable transportation.

Yet it’s in this neighborhood that Fuentes grows broccoli, spinach, onions, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers and more. Thanks to her efforts and the partnership of Trevecca’s JV Morsch Center Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 8.08.38 PMfor Social Justice, she’ll be able to harvest enough vegetables to feed her family for a year.

Gardens of Goodness

As part of its Urban Farm program, the Morsch Center has been teaming up with members of the surrounding neighborhood to plant community gardens.

Jason Adkins, environmental projects coordinator at Trevecca, lives in Chestnut Hill and saw the need for fresh, nutritious food there. In 2009, Adkins met with John Munn, a member of the neighborhood’s community garden. The two teamed up with volunteers from Trevecca and the community to transform an empty lot next to a school into a green garden where neighborhood families can grow their own fresh, organic vegetables.

Surrounded by a chain link fence, the Johnson community garden, which was named for the nearby school, is divided into 30 small plots, each with a raised garden bed for growing food. Last summer, the team expanded into two additional vacant lots to create the North Hill community garden. Now, 50 additional raised beds sit on a small hill surrounded by a fence. Individuals and families can rent the plots for $10 a year.

Fuentes is a newer member of the North Hill garden. “It’s a great resource in this community,” she says. “It means a lot to me. I’ve had the opportunity to meet other people from the community and learn.”

Sharing is Caring

On the first Saturday of each month, community gardeners come together to share tips and grow food together. Munn Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 8.08.50 PMnotes that the weekend gatherings often turn into impromptu potlucks as people share dishes they’ve prepared from the food they grow.

“It’s a place in the neighborhood where people are growing their own food can get together and build community. It’s a gathering space,” Adkins says.

Along with offering a space for members of the community to grow their food, Munn has used unrented garden beds to grow food for a soup kitchen that’s located in a church basement across the street from one of the gardens. He also gives surplus produce to shut-ins and disabled neighbors in the community. Munn estimates that he’s pulled out hundreds of pounds of fresh food to share with neighbors.

By partnering with neighbors to plant gardens, Trevecca is getting at the roots of urban hunger.

“We aren’t feeding the community,” Adkins says. “We are teaching people how to grow food on their own.”

This article was originally printed in the summer 2014 edition of NCM Magazine.

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