Community garden will promote healthy eating among low-income Johnson Citians

David Floyd • Updated Sep 19, 2015 at 9:47 PM

Tomatoes, avocados and peppers can be more expensive than chips or soda, meaning people living on food stamps often go hungry if they use their benefits for fresh produce.

Because healthy eating is sometimes difficult for poorer members of the community, employees at the Johnson City Community Health Center and volunteers have spearheaded an effort to make healthy food more accessible.

Nathan Hawkins and Brenda Young appeared Saturday morning in the center’s parking lot to put together a community garden for citizens living in Keystone Apartments, a low-income housing complex in Johnson City.

“The garden will help them to be able to have food and prevent them from having to spend too much money on healthy food.” Hawkins said. “They can use that money on other things they might need.”

Hawkins said around 10 volunteers usually show up to help build the beds, but because of the long hiatus between this work day and the last, Hawkins and Young were the only ones on hand Saturday. But despite the sparse turnout, Hawkins and Young were undeterred.

The pair spent the morning sawing apart slabs of wood and building slats for a series of raised beds. Once the components were ready, Hawkins and Young planned to transport them to the apartment complex where they could be put together.

The duo hoped to have 12 beds built by the end of the day.

After the community garden at Keystone Apartments is complete, volunteers will be able to complete work on the garden installed at the health center. The beds currently comprise a small fraction of one of the center’s large, grassy fields, but Hawkins and Young plan to have the entire stretch of land peppered with raised beds once the project is complete.

Only two community gardens are planned at this time — one beside the health center’s parking lot and one at Keystone Apartments — but Hawkins said it’s possible they might consider creating more if demand is strong.

Individuals who rent a raised bed have the freedom to plant anything — including tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash or any other produce they might be craving. 

Aside from the obvious functional purpose, Hawkins said the garden also offers people an effective form of stress relief, providing amateur gardeners with a tangible feeling of success.

“They come in here and work in their own bed,” Hawkins said. “They have the satisfaction of planting the plant and watching it grow and harvesting the produce.”

Hawkins said the garden will have a long, enduring impact on the community, and both Hawkins and Young encourage members of the community to volunteer with the construction of the garden.

“I volunteer because it makes me feel good, and it makes the other people know that someone cares,” Young said. “That’s the thing right there: to let someone know that you care.”


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