Notes from the Farm – Summer Camp, Neighborhood Picnics & Harvest Time

By Adams Carroll, AmeriCorps VISTA Member, Urban Agriculture Program –

Working in a garden is a rare luxury. There is no wifi or fluorescent lighting, but rather the privilege of experiencing heat when the sun is baking and getting wet when it rains. At the Urban Farm, all of my senses are activated. I love the crunchy prickles on a cucumber vine, the tremendous hues of our marigold and sunflowers, and even the rich, muddy aroma of our compost bins. Walking the dewy rows of our garden each morning, I think about the back-breaking work that volunteers have contributed all year long.

It took hundreds of dedicated volunteers throughout the course of several projects this spring to create the 70’x70′ field, where lots of delicious vegetables now grow.

Hundreds of inspired volunteers have sweated upon this land, cultivating our thick clay soil with garden forks, turning compost pile upon compost pile, weeding with white knuckles under the hot noon sun. Their labor has been remarkable, and the results produced so far are truly significant.

Farmer Josh, left, and the Apprentices take a look at the beautiful rows of squash. Yum.

July begins the summer harvest, a favorite stop on any garden calendar. Already we have pulled pounds of squash, beans, cucumbers, kale, and radishes. And each day new crops threaten to be delicious and ready. But even before our first vegetable was plucked from its vine, the Urban Farm was producing results. I have the pleasure of working with our eight youth Apprentices, who grow each day as notable leaders. When they started with us just five weeks ago, they were eager and energetic. And still they are, except now they are seasoned experts, adeptly directing volunteer groups, confidently explaining the finer points of natural stormwater management or organic pest control.

I have watched the apprentices fascinate a farm full of 13-year-olds with soil tests, and challenge their peers to read nutrition labels and check ingredient lists. It is rewarding to watch the Apprentices develop into advocates for the land and its products. I learn something from them every day.

Urban Farm neighbors joined us for a picnic in June. Farmer Josh gave a tour of the Farm, fielded questions, and gathered great input from the neighbors.

Two weeks ago, our neighbors joined us on the Farm for a picnic. I love to hear their stories. Some are heartbreaking – stories of commercial development upstream exacerbating Mill Creek’s destructive tendency to flood – and others just make you wonder. Did you know that before Wimpole Drive was developed into a neighborhood, it was a farm where buffalo grazed? I really appreciate the Farm’s role as a space for neighbors to congregate, to meet each other informally on dog walks in the morning, and to share stories like the legend of the buffalo. We are lucky to have neighbors who are so curious and involved, who support us and push us to cultivate a true community asset, not just a field full of vegetables. With such strong community partnerships, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Urban Farm will be a resource to serve Nashville for decades to come.

7 lbs. Squash + 2 lbs. Kale + 1 lb. greens = 10 lbs. of food harvested last week by Martha O’Bryan Center kiddos at the HON Urban Farm Summer Youth Service Camp.

Farmer Josh has blogged about our summer camp before. And still there is so much more to say! I am grateful to Bethlehem Centers, the Martha O’Bryan Center, Youth Encouragement Services, and the other local nonprofits who have brought youth volunteers out to serve on the Urban Farm. The volunteers have struggled under heavy loads of wood chips in temperatures that would send most teens running for the air conditioning. And of course, their hard work is paying off. All of the produce they have grown is donated to meet pressing food needs in their communities.

I do hope that the skills and experiences that they gain at Youth Service Camp will inspire our youth volunteers to tend their own gardens and make healthy nutritional choices. Recently, a film crew came dropped in on a Youth Service Camp session. You really should check out their video:

Do you work with a group of young people who would be interested in serving at the Urban Farm this summer? E-mail me at adams@hon.org to check our availability. We gladly host groups of up to 60 to engage in fun garden activities and service learning. I encourage youth ages 11-18 to sign up for some of our Friday VolunTEEN days. Here is a list of those opportunities. Come join us on the Farm to see what is growing in Nashville! You can read more about the Farm here.

30 pounds of vegetables harvested by Summer Camp participants at the Farm today!

A native Nashvillian, Adams Carroll serves as AmeriCorps VISTA Member for HON’s Urban Agriculture Program. He oversees the development of the Urban Farm Apprenticeship and Summer Youth Service Camp program. A bicycling enthusiast and dedicated bike commuter, Adams is a volunteer with Walk/Bike Nashville, the Oasis Center, and Free Bike Shop. His longest bike ride? 3,500 miles across 14 states.

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