By Matt Brown
Cities like Nashville are constantly growing and reinventing themselves by adding new businesses and places for people to work, live and enjoy their lives. However, as these cities expand, the spaces to grow food shrink. “This is a real problem,” says Mark Eatherly, director of operations and special projects at Metro Human Relations and the convener of Sow Nashville. “Not everyone has easy access to food, but making community gardens more accessible and easy to start could turn that around.” Growing a garden in or around an urban setting sounds like a challenge, especially for average everyday people. How can something as powerful as a place to grow and obtain food become possible for everyone? Well, thatâ€TMs where Sow Nashville comes in: It is a local initiative working to make community gardens accessible to all inhabitants of the Nashville area. “Community gardens answer a social injustice,” says Mark. “If you create these gardens in places where people donâ€TMt have access to healthy and affordable food, then it gives those people the opportunity to grow or obtain the food that they need and deserve.” The gardens provide those without a significant amount of land the opportunity to grow their own food, as well as bring diverse people together in one common place. Community gardens also build a sense of security, because neighbors come to know one another; they get people outside in the fresh air and sunshine; and they offer a hands-on platform to teach children about where food comes from. The benefits of such gardens to a city and its residents are many. Several years ago, a nonprofit organization run by Rwandan refugees called FASHA asked the question, “How do you go about starting a community garden in Nashville?” This was an issue for them because one of their primary goals is to help those who come to the U.S. in search of better lives, and one of the key solutions to help alleviate poverty was to give people a way to grow their own food. Nashvilleâ€TMs Department of Water had no problem with the idea of community gardens, but there simply wasnâ€TMt a process put in place to make it a reality. Regulations were needed regarding who would be responsible for the space, how projects would be initiated, how big a garden could be and so on. There were just too many hurdles and pitfalls. This isnâ€TMt to say that community gardens didnâ€TMt spring up anyway. It simply meant that it wasnâ€TMt easy for your average person to make a community garden from a space owned by the city. But when the flood of 2010 waterlogged a lot of property, Mark Eatherly and Metro Human Relations saw possibility sprouting from the floodplain properties of Nashville. “There isnâ€TMt much that you can do with floodplain properties,” says Mark. “Once the area has been damaged by water and is under FEMA floodplain regulations, you canâ€TMt build anything on it anymore. But that doesnâ€TMt leave community gardens out of the picture.” This, of course, created more places for people to consider starting their own community gardens. After this, Sow Nashville set out to help build a process that people could follow in order to change a once-vacant space that perhaps couldnâ€TMt be used for anything else, into a place for people to grow their own food. So how did the process come together? First, Sow Nashville had to decide what was most important to people who already had community gardens, as well as those who were trying to start them. They worked together with organizations such as Urban Green Lab to develop a simple survey that would determine what the community would really want when starting their own garden, as well as find ways to help those who already have established gardens. “I didnâ€TMt think it would take off like it did,” says Mark. “But we were able to gather a lot of information. We really wanted to know what people needed help with the most, and people have been very generous to share that with us.” Sow Nashville currently has five gardens that have gone through the process and they hope to get more and more people involved. If you would like to see how easy it is to begin the process of turning a piece of property into a public garden that your community can benefit from, just visit their website, sownasvhille.org. There, you can download the application to begin the process for your community garden, read about the restrictions and regulations of having a community garden on floodplain property, take the survey to let them know whatâ€TMs most important to you, and see where other community gardens of Nashville are located.