By: Barbara S F Davis
TVUUC, the church at 2931 Kingston Pike, is a certified Green Sanctuary. “And not just the interior,” said Barbara Lamm, standing on the hill behind the graceful buildings. This contemporary religious community is known for the value it accords every individual, and justice in all human relations, its first two guiding Principles.
One day about five years ago Terri Combs-Orme was standing on the lawn and declared, “We should have a church community garden.” Barbara attended the first meeting and realized, “Finally, there’s a place where I can really serve.”
The Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church has extended its sanctuary to include the wonders of nature by its decision that food trumps lawns. This is in harmony with the 7th Principle:Respect for the interdependent web of all existence.
Barbara Lamm made an all-inclusive gesture to express the grand vision of the garden she designed. “We want to connect with other local places of worship and encourage them to use their land for something other than to be mowed.” Co-leader Terri Combs-Orme noted that maintaining lawns is expensive and pollution-producing. Barbara added, “Wouldn’t it be grand if a lot of churches could cooperate on feeding people!”
Feeding Women, Infants and Children
TVUUC’s membership of about 500 is robust when it comes to supporting those who are marginalized or not always welcome in general society.
Terri said, “It makes us happy to provide fresh, organic food for WIC.” The fruit and vegetable donations are taken to the Knox County Health Department’s Program for Women, Infants and Children, a program that provides nutrition education and supplemental foods to low-income people who are also nutritionally at risk. The moms get classes in the kitchen using TVUUC produce.
“They learn to love more nutritious lettuces than iceberg,” declared Barbara.
Children Grow in the Garden
“We use the garden for children’s summer religious education,” said Terri. “They prep the soil, plant, water, weed and harvest—learning the web of life through direct experience. Teaching kids about organic and sustainable cultivation is so important.”
Terri is a professor of Social Work at UT. “Good nutrition is essential for children’s brain development,” she stated. “Children and parents too are tasting fresh vegetables they’ve never tried before. Barbara will cut off a thin slice of green pepper, onion or radish with her pocket knife, and the kids gobble them up.”
Where Do Beans Come From?
“Getting the kids out in the garden is so very much fun. Some said, ‘Oh, the kids won’t like being in the hot sun.’ Nonsense.
“They love to examine things up close, love to dig potatoes out of the dirt. It’s as good as an Easter egg hunt. Last year forty pounds were laid out and counted.
“The kids built the compost bins. Each had a board and they put it together like Lincoln Logs. They filled them with leaves. When we had a watermelon party last summer, the kids had to remind adults to put their rinds in the compost.”
According to Terri and Barbara, the kids go home and start a garden, having learned the magic of a dry seed turning into a leafy green plant. It is not an exaggeration to say that some children believe peas and beans come from Bird’s Eye boxes. “That’s how far out of touch we’ve gotten from nature and our ‘roots’,” said Terri.
Barbara started a pollinator garden with plants attractive to bees, such as bee balm, lamb’s ear and coneflower. They have three birdhouses to attract flying pest-eaters. “In time we’re going to invite an herbalist to make tinctures from the garden’s herbs,” said Barbara.
Good enough for Thomas Jefferson, Good Enough for Us
The 10′ or 12′ bean tipi is a very nice structure that will support Mayflower beans, heirlooms from the 1800s and part of a large donation by Baker Creek Rare Seeds. “Some of those beans were grown by Thomas Jefferson!” said Terri.
There are 12 Personal Gardens, and the big hillside is the Donation Garden. The taste of one of Rosemary Burr’s peas right off the vine, and the flavor of a just-picked strawberry, gave this writer a “religious experience.” Founding member Doris Gove is growing chard, tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes in her two beds.
Nine bushes were planted by Family Promise in memory of Greg McKendry on what is now called Blueberry Hill. “We have a new orchard, a living memorial program for those who want to honor someone. They can plant a tree in the orchard or support the construction of a new raised bed, and it will be appropriately marked,” said Barbara.
“We let some things go to seed,” said Barbara, “which most gardeners frown on. We do it as part of our education program. It’s okay if some fruits and veggies are imperfect, because that’s the interconnection of little animals, bugs and plants.
“Bunnies ate all our broccoli once, so now we use fencing! Groundhogs dined on peanut leaves but we still got the nuts. We offered them to parents to plant, something they’d never done before,” she said.
Keep the Garden Flourishing
Some funding for the garden comes from TVUUC’s Share the Plate program. “We nominate and then vote for 12 causes each year,” said Terri. “We dedicate half of an entire month’s offering to them. Our garden received February money, which let us move into the next phase of raised beds, seedlings, and soil. All that is expensive!”
Terri, Barbara and hard-working Garden Friends are looking to acquire some chickens. “And a chicken tractor! We can always use good gardening implements, soil, lumber for raised beds. One member who was downsizing donated grow lights and seeds,” said Barbara.
“Donations may take the form of money, too, of course. Just contact Terri and me at the church at 865 523-4176 regarding any form of support for the garden.”
The plan is to build beds all the way down the hillside to the parking lot, where part of the curb will be removed to provide access to the physically challenged.
A Fertile Refuge
Barbara said a man once came with his twin girls and together the three watered parts of the garden, using the porpoise-shaped watering cans. No one was there, just a daddy and his little girls having a sweet time together. The dad returned the next day because he wanted to pitch in.
“This is my sanctuary,” tall, red-haired Barbara declared with passion. “This is where you’ll find me on a Sunday morning, where a Great Blue Heron or hawk flies overhead. I’m one of the luckiest people in the world to be able to work at a church that values this project.
“We’re not big and we haven’t been here a long time, but I for one plan to live here indefinitely. Perhaps as an earthworm in the compost bin,” she grinned.
Dorothy Gurney must have imagined the TVUUC Garden when she penned her oft-quoted verse: “The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth, one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.”
© Barbara S F Davis, 2014.