Volunteers work to install new fencing and a gate at Harvest of Hope community garden.
If you’ve ever walked or driven around the area behind First Presbyterian Church on Church Circle, you’ve probably noticed the large patch of land that is “occupied” by rectangular wooden beds.
Currently, there is very little to see. But in a few months’ time, most, if not all, those beds will be filled with plants. Some tall and leafy, others short and mounded. Some with shapes and colors easily recognizable, others like something from outer space. There is a fence, several benches, some birdhouses and a picnic table.
Welcome to Harvest of Hope, Kingsport’s award-winning community garden.
Within this parcel of land, groups till the ground to harvest vegetables for food pantries and feeding programs. Individuals learn about gardening and its many benefits in nutrition and economy. Still others just enjoy working in the fresh air, alongside family members, friends and neighbors. The garden is exactly what it says it is: a community garden, open to all, accessible to as many as possible, a place where food is grown and information exchanged.
Caretakers of this garden are members of the U.T. East Tennessee Master Gardeners, generous and extremely knowledgeable volunteers who prepare the beds and provide all manner of information to those who might need some basic “Gardening 101” instruction.
The Master Gardeners are frequently on-site to help out. They also have a blog about the garden, which lists work days, recipes, questions from gardeners, and other valuable information. Pictures are frequently posted for inspiration, motivation and encouragement.
Doug Hilton is a master gardener who has been involved from the beginning with the garden. He notes that this project is one that offers many benefits to individuals and to the City, as well.
“To know how to garden - even on a small scale - is to be able to feed yourself and your family. It is work, but the reward is knowing where your food comes from, knowing how it’s been grown, knowing that it is fresh and how much better things taste when they’re fresh and not processed to travel across country,” he said.
Small children are fascinated by the simple planting of a seed and “harvesting” it weeks later. Many people have read or heard that young people today have no idea where their food comes from, other than a grocery store. Hilton wants to change that.
“Growing your own food - or at least knowing where that food comes from - is healthier and supports those farmers who do this for a living,” he explained.
“Most people will never establish their own farms or homesteads and become 100 percent self-sufficient, but their own efforts, grouped together with those of others in the area, result in better produce, healthier bodies, and support farmers.”
Another advantage of growing your own vegetables (and fruits) is that of variety.
“Most of us see only a few kinds of tomatoes or green beans,” says Hilton. “But there are dozens of different tomatoes, fromn the tiny red ones to large black ones, striped green ones to tomatoes that almost never ripen. They used to wrap them in newspaper and store them in the cellars and they could have tomatoes almost through the winter.”
If you’re sitting there with visions of tomato sandwiches and fresh green salads running through your head, now is time to get involved and reserve your own garden spot for the upcoming season. Applications and waivers are available from the United Way of Greater Kingsport office, located in the V. O. Dobbins Center at 301 Louis Street, or by calling 423-378-3409.
“Anyone and everyone can apply,” says Hilton. “First-timers, experienced gardeners, families, church groups, Scout troops - and all ages.”
There is also a series of classes scheduled for beginner gardeners, home gardeners or anyone just curious about all this. Unless otherwise noted, all classes will be held at the garden. Bring a lawn chair and dress warmly!
* March 1, 10 a.m. - Building Raised Beds
* March 8, 10 a.m. - Potato Planting
* April 12, 11 a.m. - Cold Crops: Plants that do well in cooler weather (spinach, broccoli)
* May 17, 10 a.m. - Summer Vegetables (the “major” planting for the summer: tomatoes, peppers, etc)
* July and August, Dates and Times TBA - Classes in Tomato Pruning, Building a Cucumber Tree
And, finally, most gardening tools are provided. But bring your own gloves when working in the garden. During the summer months, a master gardener will be on site Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays to answer questions. Master Gardeners of Tennessee’s Winter School recently selected Harvest of Hope Demonstration Garden as the winner in the “Search For Excellence Award.”