Hands on Nashville, a Middle Tennessee nonprofit dedicated to connecting thousands of volunteers to service opportunities at both area nonprofits and its own programs, was one of 88 charities to receive a Nashville Predators Foundation Grant in May. HON, which has programs in urban agriculture, home energy savings, youth leadership development and public education support, funneled their Foundation Grant money toward the Crop City program at the Urban Farm.
Located just a few miles south of Nashville’s bustling downtown area, the five-acre Urban Farm is both a teaching hub for volunteers in HON’s urban agriculture program and a working farm from which youth and community members can have the opportunity to harvest, prepare and taste healthy foods. Education programs for both adults and youth focus on how proper farming can restore the ecosystem through soil restoration, grow food responsibly and provide education on healthy foods that make the body work.
“It’s really important [to have the support of organizations like the Nashville Predators Foundation],” Urban Agriculture Program Manager Josh Corlew said. “Ideally, [the Urban Farm] will be a system that creates interest and creates its own sustainable program – financially and as a growing practice – because it has community support.”
The Urban Farm’s soil restoration and dedication to growing food responsibly (which in turn improves soil quality) has turned one of the worst flood planes in the city (water levels rose to nearly 10 feet during the 2010 flood) to a working farm that produces everything from potatoes and rutabaga to pears and apples. The successfulness of the Farm has opened doors for the Crop City program, a “farm-to-table, curriculum-based summer youth development program that positively impacts young people’s knowledge, skills and behaviors about healthy eating and nutrition.”
Every day for six weeks during the summer, nearly 50 kids from different youth summer programs arrive at the Farm where they are led through a three-station plan curriculum that combines games, gardening activities and cooking with experiential learning.
“The Urban Agriculture program exists to help connect individuals to resources and knowledge that help them navigate the food system,” Corlew said. “There is an educational and cultural barrier [in the United States], because we are so far removed from knowing where our food comes from and knowing what real healthy food is. Exposing children at an early age to the natural environment, seeing where and how food is grown and take part in that goes a long way in [children] being interested and making healthy eating decisions.”
One of three stations, the growing station gives participants an opportunity to learn about how plants, specifically fruits and vegetables, grow. Over the course of the summer, the youth learn about how to judge the ripeness of the produce that’s growing and the proper way to harvest the food for eating.
At the nutrition station, games are used to put information regarding what vitamins and minerals a body needs to be healthy into memory. After learning what vitamins and minerals should be eaten on a regular basis, youth get the opportunity to take produce that they have helped tend and grow and turn it into a snack for the day. Already this summer, Urban Farm crops have been utilized to make fried potatoes, crispy rutabaga hash, fresh salsa and hot sauce. Food that is harvested at the Urban Farm during the week, but not utilized in the Crop City program is then donated to local organizations like the Nashville Food Project.
Finally, the impact station takes a look at the journey food takes before it reaches plates and how that journey has a real impact on both the environment and on society. Things like pollution and soil impact, that aren’t necessarily first and foremost on people’s minds when they eat food, are discussed and lessons are learned on how to grow and enjoy food that has the best impact on the rest of the planet.
At the end of the Crop City program, children, many of which live in areas designated as “food deserts” or “food insecure areas,” have a newfound understanding on the importance of not only sustainability and the food system, but also an understanding on how their food choices can benefit their own bodies.
For more information on how to get involved with Crop City or other HON urban agriculture programs at the Urban Farm, visit www.hon.org and click on “Learn about the Urban Agriculture Program” on the page’s right-hand side.