Tag Archives: childhood obesity

Notes from the Farm: Welcoming fall, swings, & students

By Josh Corlew, HON Urban Agriculture Program Manager –

It was an amazing first summer at the Hands On Nashville Urban Farm! We harvested 600+ pounds of vegetables and had more than 2,000 volunteers pitch in to transform these five empty lots of flood plain into food producing space where much learning,discovery, and outdoor fun has taken place.

The Farm during peak summer harvest.

Thank you to everyone who has given their time, energy, support, and enthusiasm to make this a successful first year for the Farm! Your volunteerism makes it possible for us to grow healthy food that is donated to nonprofits that serve families in need.

But summer is over, and fall is in the air (and the ground as well). The summer crops of squash, cucumbers, beans, corn, and watermelon are gone. The tomatoes and peppers are nearing the end of their productivity. Our newly leafed out trees are beginning their hibernation process.

Fall, however, brings its own excitement. The change of the weather is invigorating, both to our volunteers who are eager to get warmed up by getting to work, as well as some of our fall crops. We have lots of herbs and flowers that are loving the cooler weather, and our kale has been pruned back and is really enjoying the reprieve from pesky bugs that this time of year brings.

Spinach seedlings pop their heads out of the soil.

We’ve also recently planted quite a bit of spinach and lettuce in some of the garden rows where squash, corn, and beans used to thrive. Now they’re just starting to pop up and leaf out. If all goes well, we’ll be in for a lot of spinach through the winter. We’ve also begun work on the new garden plot, preparing it for a very productive spring by starting some cover crops (these will fill the soil with beneficial nutrients). Next spring we plan on doubling the amount of growing space that we had this year.

Kids from Head Middle Magnet and West End Middle spent part of their fall intercession time at the Farm on Monday.

Fall also means school is back in session. This week we’ve had some great groups of Metro Nashville Public Schools students who volunteered at the Farm as part of their fall intercession and our Hands On Fall Break volunteer opportunities with the HON VolunTEEN Program. In addition to helping turn compost and harvest vegetables, the kids learned how compost works (it gets up to 160 degrees!), why drinks full of sugar aren’t good for our bodies, and how to choose healthier alternatives. A seventh grader named Ricky said he wished he could come to the Farm every day… maybe we have a future farmer in our midst!

VolunTEEN volunteers harvested all these sweet potatoes today!!
We got this awesome thank-you card from the West End Middle students!

If you’ve been by the Farm in a few weeks, you probably noticed our amazing new swings. We were very fortunate to have employees from Molex volunteered last month to make the swings and create some new compost bins. Their enthusiastic volunteerism will help make the farm more productive and enjoyable. The swings are made from beautiful cedar wood, and next spring we’ll have food vines growing up the trellised sides, adding to the food grown at the Farm. We have great hopes for those swings being covered in grapes, muscadines, kiwis, blackberries, raspberries, and all manner of other tasty treats.

Also, we were honored to be featured in Nashville Public Television’s Volunteer Gardener show, which aired this week. Check it out below!

I hope you’ll come down and enjoy the space sometime soon, and if you’d like to volunteer with us this fall, check out our volunteer opportunities here!

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.
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.

Give a bike to a kid in need.

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

Today we’re announcing a new Hands On Nashville initiative called ReCYCLE for Kids Presented by Cummins! For the next two Saturdays, we’re holding bike drives to collect used kids’ bikes. Volunteers will refurbish them, and then in December we’re gifting them to kids who may not otherwise have the opportunity to own their own bike. Our goal is to collect 300 bikes. Will you join us? Check out this short video of a similar effort in Portland, Ore. that inspired Hands On Nashville’s ReCYCLE for Kids.

In this blog post, our own Adams Carroll reminisces about his early biking adventures, and paints a bigger picture for why this initiative matters to our community.

I remember the first time I rode a bike – who doesn’t? I was one of the last kids in my neighborhood to learn this essential childhood skill. I remember feeling left out when everybody else on the block would go out on some small adventure and I would be left behind… or running to catch up! I also remember being an overweight child, and the effects that this had on my self-confidence and interactions with my peers. Nevertheless, when I finally learned how to ride my bicycle, I wasn’t thinking about all of the great health benefits I was about to reap. I was too busy enjoying that unique feeling of freedom that you can only experience when you are 8 years old, coasting down a hill on a little bicycle with one speed and a coaster brake. And maybe some sweet baseball cards in your spokes. There should be a word for that feeling.

ReCYCLE for Kids Bike Drives:

Sat., Oct. 13, 10a-4p
Hands On Nashville office
37 Peabody Street

Sat., Oct. 20, 10a-4p
Oasis Center Bike Workshop
Youth Opportunity Center
1704 Charlotte Avenue


:: HON.org/recyclebikes
:: Adams@hon.org
:: (615) 298-1108 Ext. 416

According to a 2010 Youth Risk Behavior Survey administered by the Metro Department of Health, nearly 18 percent of Metro Nashville Public Schools high school students are overweight, and an additional 15 percent of students are obese. Locally and nationally, these numbers have risen steadily as our diets have increased in fat and sugar content and our physical activity levels have dropped. As this generation of children matures, they will find themselves at a higher risk for preventable illnesses like diabetes and heart disease than any generation that has preceded them. If nothing is done to combat this trend, doctors from the National Institute of Health predict that today’s kids will be the first generation in American history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

As an adult, just as in childhood, I struggle to maintain a healthy weight. I’ll admit it: even though I understand the importance of maintaining a balanced diet, I love hot chicken and pizza. But since I started riding my bike again in 2004, I’ve noticed a drastic change in my health. I have more energy, sleep better, and am more productive at work. It’s rare that I take a sick day. And best of all, I get to be outside and be active at least twice a day. The health benefits of physical activity are real and measurable, and my waistline thanks me for that.

So if we want our kids to be healthy, how can we encourage them to be active? One way is to encourage kids to do something that they already enjoy. Riding a bicycle is one of the best kid-friendly forms of exercise because:

  • it is an activity that can be shared with friends and family
  • it is recommended by the Center for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services
  • it is an activity that can be continued into adulthood, encouraging lifelong health benefits
  • it is awesome; kids love doing it

Okay, that all sounds good, but as with most health issues, it isn’t that easy. One issue, especially in our city, is that low-income communities tend to experience more environmental factors that increase the likelihood of childhood obesity. Whether this means a lack of access to fresh, nutritious food or fewer playgrounds and safe places to walk, the result is the same. Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey show that low-income children are more likely to become overweight or obese. As they grow older, these health consequences can hold kids back as they try to get ahead. Sure, riding a bike is a great kid-friendly way to have fun and exercise, but many economically disadvantaged families are unable to justify the purchase of a bike. Tight family budgets, and the reality that a bike only has a useful life of 1-2 years for growing kids, are barriers.

For the past year, Hands On Nashville volunteers have worked with our Urban Agriculture Program to grow healthy foods for families in need at the HON Urban Farm. At our farm’s Youth Service Camp, kids being served by our nonprofits partners have learned about nutrition and the food system while practicing gardening techniques. And today, I’m happy to announce a new Hands On Nashville initiative that will give deserving kids a new tool in the fight against childhood obesity: a bicycle! Our new program, ReCYCLE for Kids Presented by Cummins, will use the power of volunteers to collect, refurbish, and gift bicycles to local kids in need.

This fall, in partnership with the Oasis Center, we will bring volunteers to the Oasis Bike Workshop to rebuild donated bikes to like-new condition. In December, more than 300 kids will join us at Rocketown for a day of bike safety education and a skills course to test their new knowledge. They will all go home with a helmet and the bicycle of their choosing. By the end of the day, there will be a lot of new first-time-I-rode-a-bike memories, and a lot more kids with access to a fun and healthy way to stay active.

YOU can help. If your child has outgrown their old bike, donate it to HON at one of our two upcoming bike drives. (Make sure to get your kid a sweet new bike at one of Nashville’s great local bike shops while you’re at it). If you don’t have a bike to donate, then help us spread the word! We want to get kids bikes out of the waste stream and back on the streets.

Do you have a fun first-bike memory you’d like to share?

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.

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.

Yoga & Push-ups: Getting Active at Fannie Battle Day Home

Guest post by youth volunteer Hui Cheng —

It’s workout time at Fannie Battle Day Home for Children! This semester, the youth and I have embarked on a fitness adventure to combat childhood inactivity, and so far, everyone has loved every moment of it.

In the several months I’ve spent as a Fannie Battle intern, it’s been particularly important for me to introduce healthy physical activities that the kids can easily remember and replicate at home – because it’s shocking to learn how little time most spend being active.

Hui and the Fannie Battle kids play a game of "Human Knot."

With the rising popularity of addicting video games and the Internet, most youth just don’t think that going outside and exercising can be very enjoyable – or very important. Some of my youth don’t live near friends whom they can play with, and many have already-busy parents who just don’t have the time to greatly emphasize the importance of exercise.

Keeping those factors in mind, I decided to start the year with an activity that was fun and could be done on one’s own time – yoga. When I introduced the poses, however, I wasn’t surprised to receive a series of odd looks from my class.

“What on earth is a downward-facing dog?”

“I can’t twist my arms far enough this Eagle pose!”

Yet, as we moved through cycles of Sun Salutations, lunged in Warrior poses and struggled to balance as Trees, we grew gigglier and sillier. (Check out these photos of the kids busting out some yoga moves!) At the end of the class, the youth voted to have a yoga show-and-tell; each of us would teach the rest of the class our favorite pose. When I left, I knew I wouldn’t have to ask them to keep exercising when they got home; they were already repeating the movements on their own. “This is fun! Can we do this again?” a girl asked.

Preparing for the day's activities!

When I returned this month, my class was again eager to learn and eager to exercise. While everyone last week had enjoyed yoga, this week’s workout – a mini bootcamp – appealed much more to the boys. We did push-ups and tricep push-ups, V-ups and crunches, and even hopped around the room in a series of jumping squats.

“Will muscles help me get girls?” a boy jokingly asked.

We all laughed, but I couldn’t help feeling that he had touched on something vital. When I went home from Fannie Battle this Friday, I waved goodbye to the same cries of, “Can we do this again? This was fun!” But this time, I left with a new idea in mind. So far, all of my efforts were intended to persuade youth that fitness was essential to healthy living.  But perhaps, as this young man had mentioned, it could be linked to something more. Perhaps it was necessary to motivate my kids to exercise by pointing out how cardio workouts could help them run faster in soccer, or how doing push-ups would develop their biceps and help them pitch a ball faster in baseball.

Perhaps making fitness relevant to everyday activities could be more persuasive to youth than mere health and fitness alone – and in next month’s lesson, I hope to transform this young boy’s words into inspiration.

Hui Cheng, a senior at Martin Luther King Academic Magnet School, is one of 12 HON Youth Volunteer Corps Interns, serving in the inaugural 2011-2012 class. Each month, she plans and leads a fitness and nutrition focused activity that engages the children served by the Fannie Battle Day Home For Children after-school program. Hands On Nashville is now accepting applications for the 2012-13 YVC Internship program. Read more and download an application.