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Knoxville, TN: On the "Community" part of Community Gardening

  • Subject: [cg] Knoxville, TN: On the "Community" part of Community Gardening
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Thu, 24 Mar 2005 07:04:55 EST


More than the work of planners, who try to explain the "from the roots up,"
phenomenon of community gardens in cities with markings on maps, when they
aren't dealing with traffic flows, and making them more congested,  community
gardens are really about volunteers and gardeners, even more than plants.

Space and land is key to community gardens, but as urbanist Jane Jacobs said,
about parks and urban plazas, public spaces like community gardens have to be
graced by the patronage of neighbhorhood residents

Plants are the medium for building community in community gardens - which is
really why the community garden movement is much more than than urban
agriculture - it's a movement of social integration of atomized city residents
all strata of society, on  common ground.

Community gardens that think that "being green, and being there" is enough
justifies their existance have it half right - comparable to singing in a room
alone. The idea is to sing first to others, then with others creating a
self-perpetuating chorus.

What many urban planners and garden preservationists haven't gotten is that
it's the social organization of gardens and their ability to self-perpetuate
volunteers that is key to their survival.

The Clinton Community Garden in Manhattan lives on a block with two social
service agencies, "Fountain House," (http://www.fountainhouse.org/history.html
and "Project Return," (http://www.projectrenewal.org/housing.html#clinton),
which has integrated their mentally ill and homeless residents into our garden
community through membership and active participation. They're an integral
part of our community.

Re the attached article: I don't know if  Knoxville, TN  Friendship House
program director Lisa Higginbotham ever interned/trained  at either of these
institutions, or attended one of our "ACGA" seminars, but she sure has the
plan down.

It's nice to see that our community gardening "truisms" are true - that  the
basic idea of building community from the ground up replicates itself where
there are plants, soil and most important, people who want to use them to

Adam Honigman
Clinton Community Garden

Fertile Grounds
Friendship Garden sows seeds of community

by Mike Gibson

Gardening, to some of us, seems little more than a preoccupation of finicky
suburbanites and the bored elite, an excuse for people with too much time on
their hands to plant things in their backyard that don't really belong there.

But one might just as well speculate that the act of gardening squares with
our most deeply ingrained instincts for self-reliance and survival, perhaps as
some atavistic byproduct of the hunter-gatherer impulse, encompassing at once
our needs for sustenance, community, and independence.

"Regardless of where I've lived, even when I was living in urban areas, I've
always liked the idea of gardening," explains Russ Marek, one of eight
residents of the Fourth and Gill neighborhood with a plot in the Friendship
Garden off Morgan Street. "I think it appeals to me because there's a sense
of value. It gives me the feeling I'm doing something at least

How else can we explain the enthusiasm with which Friendship gardeners tend
their tiny plots of mustard greens and zucchini and Asian yard-long beans,
despite their stone's-throw proximity to mean, unsightly Broadway? A
program overseen by the Friendship House Drop-In Center-a local outreach for
the mentally ill-Friendship Community Garden affords area residents and
Friendship House members alike the opportunity to partake in the joys of the
harvest, even while entrenched in one of the least elegant sectors of the

"Our purpose is to build community-to grow community, really," says
Friendship House program director Lisa Higginbotham. "And this is the
Friendship House
members' chance to get out and make friends in the community, maybe alleviate
some of the stigma of mental illness."

According to Higginbotham, urban gardening enthusiasts first tilled soil at
Friendship Garden about four years ago, when Beardsley Farms began operating
the program after local businessman Jim Cortese provided the land and gave the
project his blessing.

But Beardsley Farms dropped out after only a couple of growing seasons, and
the garden lay dormant for a year until the nearby Friendship House Drop-In
Center decided to renew the program as part of its own mental health

To participate, would-be gardeners need only sign a release form at the
Drop-In Center on Lamar Street. Each gardener is assigned his or her own small
in the roughly 1,700-square-foot space set aside in the backyard of an old,
weather-worn house on Morgan. "The plots are free of charge, and we just divvy
them out with our eyes and some guesswork," Higginbotham says. "We're kinda
laid back in the way we do things here."

The growing season is a long one for the Friendship folks; they begin
tilling, building beds and planting "cold" crops (greens, beets, carrots) in
and plant and harvest warm-weather crops throughout the late spring and
Their labors continue unabated until late October, when a second and final
round of cold crops (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli) is harvested.

Throughout the growing season, Friendship plot-holders meet as a group once a
week, on Fridays, to plan and take care of essential chores. Otherwise, the
gardeners are free to work their plots as often or as little as they choose.

Because the Drop-In Center is geared toward encouraging its mentally ill
clients to mix with one another as well as integrate with society at
large-Higginbotham describes FHDIC as a community center, of a sort, where
members can come
and take part in a variety of classes, field trips and activities, social and
cultural events-the addition of Friendship Garden was a natural fit.

"We're doing a great job with the Friendship Garden, and I measure that in
two ways-by the things I see from the Drop-In Center people who work in the
garden, and by the involvement of the rest of the community," Higginbotham
"Last year we had only three community (non-Friendship House) gardeners, and
now we have eight. We've run out of space; I've had people approaching me in
restaurants and shops downtown who want to know more about it."

Higginbotham notes that several FHDIC members have flourished through their
involvement in the Friendship Garden, finding new hobbies, making new friends,
discovering new ways to cope with and even overcome the socially debilitating
effects of their respective conditions-maladies that run the gamut from severe
depression to schizophrenia to personality disorders.

Planting purple pansies in the mulch beneath the Friendship Garden sign on a
slightly chilly Friday morning, 30-something Kingsport native Laura Purvis is
but one example of how the program can change for the better the lives of the
FHDIC members who partake of it.

Possessed of a strong background in the culinary arts ("My instruction was in
French cooking," she says, "but now I really love to make vegetarian
stuff."), Purvis had fallen away from the high-end restaurant work she did in
past. But her reacquaintance with the art of gardening (like many other
gardeners, Purvis' initial experience with gardening had come at her parents'
home, as a child) seemingly reawakened some of her professional instincts.

"Laura has really taken to it," Higginbotham says. "When it's growing season,
she's out there every chance she gets. She's assisted some of the other
members; she's done some online research; she even taught a cooking class at
Friendship House."

"Gardening goes hand in hand with cooking," Purvis allows, mashing a flower
bulb into plantable shape, pruning its excess roots and packing it firmly into
the ground. "I love growing fresh vegetables, of course. And also lots of

For Western Heights resident Brenda Cantrell and her three children,
Friendship Garden brought them closer together in a most unexpected way, all
the while
providing an opportunity to save money on their grocery bill.

"My son Alvin [Crosby] got me to try it," Cantrell says, pointing to a stout,
broadly smiling boy in his late teens, standing next to his brother Albert
and his sister Veronica Mitchell. The kids are no more than three or four
apart in age, all of them with the same shy, toothy, self-conscious grin.

"I got to liking it, even though I didn't think I would," she continues. "I
didn't think I had a green thumb. And when you grow it yourself, it always
tastes better than it does in the store."

But community spirit isn't the only thing that sets Friendship Garden apart
from other, more pedestrian plantings. Higginbotham notes that Friendship is
all organic, pesticide-free. "It's harder to do that way," she admits. "But
since we promote mental health, we wanted to promote physical and nutritional
health as well."

To compensate for the absence of pesticides and other artificial growing
aids, Higginbotham says the Friendship gardeners employ methods such as
planting-pairing species that benefit one another when they grow in close
proximity-and the use of heirloom plants-seeds with good "blood lines,"
from hardier plants with more resistance to disease.

"You learn interesting things when you practice organic gardening,"
Higginbotham says. "Marigolds and tomatoes like each other, for instance,
because the
marigolds discourage the aphids that attack the tomato plants.

"Even the way you design the garden is important. We learned not to plant all
our onions in a row. When you plant them in a line, the insects that attack
them have an easier time going from plant to plant."

Granted, none of the Friendship gardeners will likely be mistaken for
agricultural experts; most of them are lifelong city dwellers, with at most a
familiarity with the art, half-remembered from childhood days. But the years
of received knowledge will eventually tell, as evidenced by Marek, who tended
tiny plots and "container gardens" at his former home in Memphis.

Marek grudgingly admits that he managed to learn a thing or two over the
years, but he scoffs at the notion that he has any real expertise. "Am I
knowledgeable? Maybe more than the average Joe. But you wouldn't want me to
teach a
class in gardening, that's for sure."

Marek surveys Friendship Garden as he speaks, perhaps taking note of the
pleasing congruity of his own well-tended little plot, or of the newly erected
fence that he took the lead in helping his fellow gardeners assemble and
"Then again," he says with a smile, "maybe I'd try [teaching] in a pinch."

March 24, 2005 o Vol. 15, No. 12
) 2005 Metro Pulse

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