By: Barbara S F Davis
Each year 1500 volunteers trek to the garden near Western Avenue and News Sentinel Drive to help out with whatever is on the calendar for the day. “They don’t get stuck with all the weeding,” says Julianne O’Connell of Beardsley Community Farm. “When weeding is scheduled, staff is kneeling right next to them.” Beardsley Farm is maintained by a farm manager, a small team of AmeriCorps members, and the beloved volunteers.
This haven for organic gardeners began with the gift of a half acre from the City about 15 years ago. Now Beardsley Community Farm extends over six acres and produces 4000 pounds of vegetables annually, life-enhancing donations to Family Crisis Center, Bridge Refugee Services, Knoxville Area Rescue Mission (KARM), and Western Heights Baptist Center.
With you motto “Cities grow their own food,” you teach organic and sustainable gardening. We know organic means no chemicals, but what is sustainability?
Julianne replied, “Sustainability means we catch 8400 gallons of rain water in our four tanks, make raised beds with old railroad ties, cinder blocks and Knoxville Glass’s donated wood pallets.
“We save seeds which become heirlooms. Bees are kept for cross-pollination. We use no chemicals. To kill pests we use soap and water mix as well as olive oil and garlic spray.”
The comprehensive website is up-to-date on what’s growing at the farm. “Presently, Beardsley Farm has raspberry and blackberry brambles; muscadine grapes and blueberries; a young orchard of fruit and nut trees,” as well as many varieties of vegetables raised from seed in the commercial-sized greenhouse.
Community members can claim their own 2′ x 20′ plot at Beardsley. They sign up in March, free of charge, and can garden through November. Water, tools and rich compost are provided by Beardsley. “All you have to do is bring the seeds and some elbow grease.”
“Living in the poorest zip code an Ohio region was living in a food desert. It taught me a lot about community gardening and sustainable practices,” said Kate Wiggeringloh.
“I look forward to using my knowledge of urban agriculture, American Sign Language, Deaf culture, and research in economically sustainable living to help educate others.”
Kate has transformed the community garden program by creating a Workshare CSA program. It is a membership supported program in which community members will work on the Workshare Gardens in exchange for a box of produce.
Tours and field trips are popular with kids and adults. Schedule one by contacting Kate at 865-546-8446.
Julianne presents a series of lessons in local classrooms. At Vine Middle she teaches students why local and seasonal foods are important, and how to cultivate them. “I love that Beardsley Community Farm focuses on education,” said Julianne. Part of her job at the Farm is to assess tour group’s needs and give small cooking demos.
Americorps assigned Julianne to Beardsley for ten months, after which she gets a full ride on a Fulbright to Austria. She’ll do research on sustainable urban agriculture at a Viennese high school devoted to agricultural studies. “For example, math is taught in relation to planting a garden; science and physics with regard to vertical horticulture,” she said.
“We use a three-bin system,” said Julianne, who loves composting and would like that as her exclusive job. “The reason people say not to put meat and dairy in compost is not that it won’t break down, but that it takes so long. In Bin #1 go the greens (Nitrogen) and browns (Carbon). “Grass, table and food scraps, manure are the ‘greens’ (even though manure is brown!). Dead leaves and straw are the ‘browns.’ We keep equal parts and let them cook until we turn them into Bin #2 to further break down. The finished material in Bin #3 is ready to be used.”
Julianne was enthusiastic about Knox Composts. “They’re an awesome resource. They’ll give you a bucket with a lid that you can fill with scraps, then they come take it away on a convenient schedule and replace it with an empty bucket. After about four months they start bringing you a bucket of compost when they pick up the other bucket of scraps.”
Vermicomposting is a fun, hands-on science lesson for school kids. “There are maybe 200 red worms in the bed, which thrive there generation after generation. Kids like to count them! Worms eat organic matter and ‘poop’ high quality castings we use for fertilizer. A ‘tea’ is made of the castings to water transplants and seedlings. Fish emulsion and compost are our main sources of fertilization,” said Julianne.
“We till by hand to keep nematodes and other organisms alive. This is what is called permaculture.”
There are five chickens on the property and they produce about a dozen eggs a week. Their value to the overall garden is to eat bad bugs as well as aerate the soil with their talons. “They go all over the garden,” declared Julianne. “Definitely free range!”
One of the most charming sights is the red Chicken Tractor built by a young man earning his Eagle Scout rank. The nest area protects the hens from the elements, their fenced area is open on the bottom to allow their feces to become fertilizer. After they’ve had their way with an area, the tractor is rolled to another plot where the hens can benefit the garden by eating and excreting.
Farm Manager, Khann Chov, has been getting her hands dirty since childhood. “My family taught us to always work hard, to live frugally, and to eat well with the people you love.”
“I liked watching a duck hatch,” one of the fond memories in her five years at the Farm. “We used to have a few ducks, and chickens would sit on their eggs. A few people on the old farm team were watching. We all had cameras and would gasp each time the shell broke lose and stretched. It was beautiful.”
The most challenging thing for Khann is never having enough time to start and complete all the projects that she would like to do at the farm.
Julianne said, “People feel community identity with the Farm. Members can show their friends the trellis they made, or a raised bed.” One member made the small demonstration strawbale house, of increasing interest to architects who seek to keep building costs down and insulation values up.
Julianne was candid about organic gardening. “It’s hard and takes patience. You have to amend the soil with compost you build, wait for plants to grow while you weed and water. Patience is only one of the lessons gardening teaches. You also learn the interconnectedness, the mystery of everything. You learn that the right way is also the hard way. But the reward is greater.”
© Barbara S F Davis, 2014.