By Josh Corlew, Hands On Nashville Urban Agriculture Program Manager -
The first time I saw the property along Mill Creek in Southeast Nashville, I felt a rush of anticipation. It seemed to be almost bursting with raw, untapped potential. Soon my head was swimming with possibilities: gardens with perfect sets of companion plants; fruit and nut trees surrounded by veggies; beautiful flowers providing a place for good bugs to live; rain gardens to keep the ground from flooding; composting systems; a worm farm; a little cove filled with mushrooms; walking paths and gathering areas for neighbors, volunteers, and young people.
And then I started to feel a little overwhelmed by how much work needed to happen to get the HON Urban Farm off the ground. But soon I remembered the past year, working with volunteers to put in a new urban garden in partnership with Trevecca University. There were a lot of good lessons learned: double digging is hard work but worth the effort; cover the garden paths because the weeds creep in fastest from there; basil and tomatoes love growing close to each other. But the most important lesson that the garden taught me was that plants are designed to grow and survive.
This lesson is a huge relief. It makes my job so much easier to know that all plants that I want to grow are trying just as hard to stay alive as I am trying to keep them alive. In fact, they’re probably trying even harder, and they certainly have more experience at it than I do. My job is simply to provide an environment that gives each plant what it needs to thrive. While this can be a big job, it’s comforting to know that the plants I put into the ground are designed to live and produce food.
It’s much like what we’ve been doing at HON for over 20 years now. Instead of working ourselves into a frenzy about meeting all the needs in our community, we know volunteers are out there every day doing that work; many of them not even through Hands On Nashville. It’s like the way that flowers, fruits, and vegetables don’t require a formal garden to grow. Wild flowers, onions, and asparagus can be readily found all over an empty field. Apples, figs, cherries, and mullberries are all over the streets and parks of Nashville. But like the gardener creating a healthy space for plants to grow, HON simply tries to make volunteering as accessible as possible by using the organization’s infrastructure and network to capitalize on existing community resources.
So when I look at HON’s new Urban Farm that is just budding, it’s re-energizing for me. I’m challenged to be the best steward possible of the ground, working with volunteers to create a place that can produce as much healthy food as possible in a sustainable way. At the same time, I’m relieved that I’m not working at this alone and am reminded that I’m a part of a network that includes tens of thousands of volunteers working to make Nashville a better place to live, work, and play. With that kind of momentum, I know we’re going to succeed at whatever we set our minds to. [Interested in volunteering at the Urban Farm this summer? Check out upcoming opportunities.]
Josh Corlew is Hands On Nashville’s Urban Agriculture Program Manager. He oversees the organization’s efforts to engage volunteers in service opportunities that empower them to gain gardening skills, learn about healthy eating choices, and help address our city’s food access issues. In 2011, Josh developed and implemented an urban garden program at PERK Urban Farm, in partnership with Trevecca University, that engaged 1,000+ volunteers and produced 700+ pounds of food on a 2.5-acre plot of land. An AmeriCorps alumnus, Josh also has a secret past life as a Trekkie (he’s a big fan of the TV series Star Trek, for the uninitiated among us), and he has been known to participate in death-defying canoe trips.