published Friday, July 24th, 2009

Cultivating neighborhoods


by Emily Bregel
Audio clip

Laurie Vaughen

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Margaret Fenton Cindy, right, and Tom Carter trim and weed their garden plot behind Graceworks Church on Lee Highway on Tuesday afternoon. Crabtree Farms, an urban sustainable farm in downtown Chattanooga, will host a free city-wide tour of a number of local gardens, including The Gardens at Graceworks.

COMMUNITY GARDEN LOCATIONS

These gardens will take part in a free open house event from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. The first 20 families at each location will receive a free reusable shopping bag. For more information, call Melanie Babb of Crabtree Farms at 493-9155, ext. 11. The community gardens tour will go on as planned in case of a light rain, but heavy rain and lightning will postpone the event.

* Graceworks Church, 6445 Lee Highway

* Hope Springs Community Garden, 8040 Standifer Gap Road

* Stuart Heights Community Garden, 3325 Van Buren St.

* St. Andrews Center, 1918 Union Ave.

* The Baylor Student Garden, 171 Baylor School Road

* Alton Park/St. Elmo Community and Teaching Garden, 927 W. 37th St.

* St. Luke's United Methodist Church Garden, 3210 Social Circle

* Chattanooga Area Food Bank, 1100 Gateway Ave.

* The Gathering Garden at Memorial Baptist Church, 4445 Hixson Pike

Each day at dusk in Highland Park, 42-year-old Mark Elmore makes his way from his home to a blossoming community garden a block up the street.

In the garden, which is adjacent to the St. Andrews Center, the former U.S. Marine said he meticulously waters tomatoes, squash and other vegetables. The plants are laid out in the shape of the stained-glass window on the side of St. Andrews, a former Methodist church.

The nightly routine is "therapeutic," but more importantly, the plants growing in the low-income urban neighborhood can provide fresh vegetables to his neighbors who can't afford to buy them, Mr. Elmore said.

"My family has been through times when we didn't have any food," said Mr. Elmore, who spends most of his time volunteering since developing an anxiety disorder while serving in the Marines. "I'm working on this garden project to (help) the people who have just enough money to pay their light bill or water bill and don't have enough money to go to the store and buy groceries."

The St. Andrews Center's garden is one of nine community gardens that, on Saturday morning, will welcome budding gardeners and others during a free citywide tour.

Organized by Crabtree Farms, the tour is part of the organic farm's "From the Ground Up" program, a yearlong effort to promote community gardens in Chattanooga.

Participants in the tour can visit any or all of the gardens on the tour list, said Melanie Babb, program coordinator at Crabtree Farms, a nonprofit organization and urban farm that promotes sustainable agriculture.

Eggplant, blackberries, sweet and hot peppers, okra, green beans and sunflowers are some of the plants in bloom, she said.

The gardens provide local, affordable produce and mostly are in underserved communities where residents can struggle to get healthy foods, Ms. Babb said.

The economic recession has been a big driver of interest in local gardening, she said.

"Food prices are high. The economy is bad right now, and a return to growing your own food is kind of more important than ever," Ms. Babb said.

Recent food safety scares, such as the pistachio, tomato and cookie dough recalls, also have bolstered interest in local foods from an identifiable and trustworthy source, she said.

Last year, Graceworks Church on Lee Highway started its community garden, which has 15 raised plots growing snow peas, onions, okra and cantaloupes, among other produce, said Judy Hixson, church member and one of the garden's coordinators.

Neighborhood residents can rent a plot for $100 annually, including water, to plant and cultivate their own gardens, she said. The church plans to designate a few of the plots for low-income people to come and pick produce free, officials said.

Gardening fosters a sense of connection among disparate community members, said Laurie Vaughen, garden manager of the St. Andrews Center garden.

"When you're out weeding and doing something physical together, you can sit and talk," she said. "This has kind of been a community-building experience."

about Emily Bregel...

Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...

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