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Unsung Heroes: Master gardener Doug Hilton shares his expertise with the community

July 18th, 2013 9:33 am by Katherine Scoggins

Unsung Heroes: Master gardener Doug Hilton shares his expertise with the community

If you have ever seen the Harvest of Hope Community Garden, located behind First Presbyterian Church on Church Circle, you have seen the culmination of approximately four years of work by many enthusiastic, hard-working, committed gardeners from around the area.

Perhaps no one in this group is more enthusiastic than Doug Hilton, a six-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a U.T. Master Gardener for 20-plus years. This garden is not just a hobby with him, it is a passion. 

Hilton can often be found in or around the garden, building new raised beds, filling them with soil, composting or helping new gardeners plan their gardens. He prefers to stay behind the scenes, but because of his energy and enthusiasm, he can also be found talking to community leaders, teachers and administrators, and anyone he feels could lend support to the garden, through either materials or funding. 

“Now that this garden has gotten established, we’re at a second stage, where we need to get some ongoing backing. The original sponsors - the City of Kingsport, AARP, United Way of Greater Kingsport, First Presbyterian Church, UT Extension and Tennessee Master Gardeners - gave the land and materials to get the garden started with its original 39 beds, but needs are ongoing: more space, additional beds, more equipment and supplies (hoses, plants, pitchforks, shovels, etc.). 

On this particular morning, Hilton is painting the new message board that was constructed by Ron Russum, one of several very dedicated volunteers. This message board serves as a way to connect the gardeners with each other and with the master gardeners for any questions they might have. It also holds schedules for work days in the garden, as well as general information about the workshops and classes held throughout the growing season. Several master gardeners give a day of their time each week to the garden and the gardeners. Hilton’s “day” is Saturday. He is available to answer questions, give advice, troubleshoot, and coach. 

“It is important to empower people to garden for themselves,“ says Hilton. “That old saying ‘Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will have food for a lifetime’ is so true. It’s all about sustainability; being able to take care of yourself and your family, even in bad times. 

"People are curious about this garden and what it can provide. We have people who grew up gardening, some might have had a small garden at some point in their lives, and others are just very curious. There are no stupid questions and I hope they feel comfortable enough to ask what’s on their minds," Hilton added. "Often they are amazed at how much can be grown in a small space, such as a pot on your back porch. As long as it gets sun and is within distance of a water source, many vegetables and herbs can be grown.” 

Hilton grew up with grandparents who farmed  in Nickelsville, Va., and he has gardened for approximately 40 years, 20 as a master gardener.

The Harvest of Hope Garden came about as a result of two community forums on food insecurity held by the United Way of Greater Kingsport in 2008. Information presented at these forums by over 60 individuals and groups, coupled with survey results and local and national initiatives, brought AARP, UT Extension Tennessee Master Gardeners and First Presbyterian Church  together to develop a community garden effort in Kingsport. Its focus is to feed the hungry, raise hunger awareness and provide hands-on learning and nutrition education, particularly for low socio-economic members of the community. Gardeners include those of limited means, identified through Interfaith Hospitality Network, Salvation Army and Kitchen of Hope. In addition, remaining garden beds were adopted by individuals and groups who grow fresh produce for local food pantries and kitchens.

“There are a lot of volunteers involved with this garden,” says Hilton. “It is most definitely a team effort.” 

Master gardeners include Nancy Walker, Phil Ramey (“our vegetable expert”), Earl Hocken, Ron Russum, and Lloyd Grimm. It was Russum who, with help from the members of the Kingsport Senior Center’s woodshop program, made the large sign for the garden’s name and sponsors.

While the Harvest of Hope Community Garden is his “biggest” project, Hilton is also active in several display gardens at the Appalachian Fairgrounds in Gray, as are many of the master gardeners.

“Master gardeners undertake these projects because they are an excellent way to educate people about raising their own food, demonstrating through hands-on activities what is necessary to give plants a good start and then to sustain them over the growing season,” explains Hilton. 

There are also master gardeners and professionals who share information about particular types of vegetables: how long they take to mature, when to pick, how they taste, and how to prepare and preserve. This information (and much more) is included in the garden’s blog: and on the garden’s Facebook page, Harvest of Hope Growing with Kingsport. Information about the Garden is also available at

“We’re always looking for help,” says Hilton, “volunteers, funding, and especially those interested in gardening!”

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