KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The local YMCA is now working to grow and expand its community garden, so the roots of what they teach and who they reach will help nourish more people in the community.
It’s a community garden that produces more than just fruits and vegetables. In 2013 alone, the Community Giving Garden at the Davis Family YMCA was able to distribute 11,000 pounds of fresh produce to the community.
“We started the program because we see the hunger in town that needs to be satisfied with healthy foods and we saw our place as providing healthy food to Fish Pantry, Manna House and other places that help feed the hungry in our community,” said Jim Dickson, president and CEO of YMCA of East Tennessee.
The garden started with only soil beds, but now they have added hydroponic gardens that use water instead of soil to grow the produce.
We have three different hydroponic systems. We have dutch buckets and we have the lettuce table and we have stackers that we use to grow greens and herbs and our strawberries,” said master gardener Ellen Morar.
She says those systems are not only used to help produce more food; they are also used to educate the public.
They host several classes a year that teach people how to grow food at home using these same systems.
“We’ve had 30-plus members at each of the classes we’ve offered, and they also come out here and volunteer and they’ve been very interesting in learning about gardening and helping support our garden here,” she said.
The Walmart Foundation donated $38,000 in June to help expand those efforts. Their first step in doing so is bringing similar gardens to their Cansler and downtown locations, using that money to add more staff and supplies.
“Our goal is to end hunger here in town and do our part to hopefully make that happen someday,” said Dickson.
How the gardens are helping the community
Most of us don’t know what it is like to go hungry. Sadly, that is not the case for everyone, and often when struggling families can afford food, fresh produce is too expensive to fit into their budget.
6 News visited the YMCA to learn how they’re using their community garden to change that.
“If it was not for Fish and places like this, me and my kids would just go hungry,” said Frankie Osborne.
She is just one of many mothers relying on the Fish Pantry to help keep food on the table. Several times a week she stops by the food pantry and says she really appreciates the fresh produce here, which is hard to come by.
“It helps my kids grow strong. Fresh produce. I have tried to grow my own. Didn’t work. The stores too expensive”
One of the people that helps make this happen is YMCA member Lissy Myers who volunteers at the pantry several days a week.
“I go Monday and pick up food from Y, and again on Wednesday, and bring it here on Tuesday and Thursday,” she said.
Myers says people’s faces light up when they see the fresh produce, and she knows the YMCA Community Garden is making a difference.
“People will come and tell you we love you, we appreciate you, and God bless you,” she said.
Myers story goes even deeper. Near the end of our interview, she opened up about why helping feed the hungry is a very personal mission.
“Because I experienced hunger myself for months and years. I was born during the war, and the Russians came into our village and took us way from concentration camp. So I was almost there for three years, and we didn’t have hardly any food – a slice of bread a day and a bowl of soup. And that’s the reason I always said I will come and help people.”
Many of us here at 6 News spent Wednesday morning helping to expand that community garden. We helped fill raised beds, plant fall produce and we rolled out the foundation for walkways in the garden.
Right now this fresh produce is delivered to several food pantries and some kids after school programs.