Build It Up East TN to fund and help build family gardens in 2016

Tony Casey • Updated Jan 11, 2016 at 5:24 PM

Teach, plant, harvest, eat and repeat appears to the goal of the local nonprofit Build It Up East TN, and though there’s early morning frost on much of the area’s gardening space, it’s already time to meet and plan for this year’s Gardening Program.

Following the 2015 program, which sought to help area families cultivate food gardens and enjoy the bounty of their labors, they’re going to do it again, but will try to help even more families find their way to the healthy, homegrown foods.

Last year, 10 recipients, mostly families and aspiring food gardeners, benefited from Build It Up East TN’s funding and guidance. This year, 25 applicants — with eight of those coming from last year’s lot — will be offered the same opportunity. The application process has recently opened up and it’s expected that nearly 100 will be vying for the remaining 17 or so spots.

A question-and-answer session will be part of the an upcoming meeting at the Willow Tree Coffeehouse and Music Room. It will take place on Saturday at 1 p.m. and will serve many purposes for the upcoming gardening season, but specifically will help those involved with Build It Up East TN’s Gardening Program know what is expected.

Plants, seeds, fertilizer, a hoe, hand trowel, organic pest and disease control and help with tilling is provided through the Gardening Program.

Some of the requirements for interested parties include a piece of available land at least 20 feet by 25 feet that receives at least six hours of sunlight each day and participation in the program’s workshops.

Preference will be giving to younger, lower income families who can garden on the proper kind of land — not a slope with too much of a steep grade. The health benefits to lower-income families, especially those with big families, can be exponential.

Lexy Close, who serves as the program’s leader, said those who’ve gone through the garden training have been extremely successful. Many have been able to go from a base line mark of having little familiarity with growing their own nutritious food, to doing just that later in the year. Some ultimately joined the leadership ranks to help the new batch of food gardeners.

“It’s not first come, first serve,” Close said. “We’ll be looking at each applicant, looking at their sites and interviewing them.”

Jonesborough’s Katie Bashor recently went from being one of the program’s participants to one of the minds who will help guide the group this year. She finds herself in the leadership committee with Close, local gardeners, farmers and people interested in locally-produced food.

Bashor didn’t start last year’s program completely unfamiliar with gardening — she said she’s had some sort of small garden her whole life — but she really took the ball and ran with it. She used her Jonesborough space to supplement her income by selling the fruits of her labor to local farmers’ markets and the River Creek Farm community-supported agriculture program.

“It’s surprising what you can get for your foods,” she said. “It’s all good organic food and you can sell a pound of greens from your garden for $4 to $5 per pound. And they grow really well in season. It’s really helpful when that adds up.”

One of the issues faced by nonprofit’s like Build It Up East TN is funding, and though Close is helping expand this program to help East Tennessee families grow and eat healthier foods, the amount of funding they were receiving from their biggest single donor dropped.

Last year, serving 10 participants, they worked with approximately $23,000, whereas this year, they only have $19,000. Part of this money goes to Close and two other staff members who help keep the program up and running, making sure everyone has the resources and answers they need.

For the program to expand and continue to be a success for Build It Up East TN, Close said anyone interested in helping can make a donation through their website.

Email Tony Casey at [email protected]. Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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