This article originally appeared in the Shopper News on May 20, 2015.
Plans for a new garden brought out Michelle Neal and son, Sage, at 8 a.m. recently to talk with Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation’s Jack Canada (left) and Sean Gilbert, and Robert Hodge, director of the Knoxville Botanical Garden’s Center for Urban Agriculture. Neal lives in a KCDC residence on Juanita Cannon Street in East Knoxville.
Off-the-cuff comments by a would-be gardener and an advocate of urban agriculture are turning an empty East Knoxville lot into a garden. Art Cate, director of Knoxville’s Community Development
Corporation, was speaking to a recent East Knoxville community meeting when Michelle Neal, a KCDC resident, asked about having a garden near her home. Robert Hodge, director of the Center for Urban Agriculture at the Knoxville Botanical Garden, commented that he had people in need of gardening space.
“See me about that after the meeting,” Cate responded and by the end of the week plans were underway to turn an empty lot on Juanita Cannon Street into a garden spot for nearby KCDC residents.
Neal and her son, Sage, met with Hodge and two KCDC officials – Sean Gilbert and Jack Canada – the following Friday morning and quickly determined how to clear the lot so that Neal and the other could have gardens at the site.
“We’re looking for successful community gardening on a small scale, Hodge said. “I hope this is the first of many gardens within the city.”
Hodge has been involved with other garden startups in Knoxville, but putting this one on KCDC property is unique.
“Knoxvillians need to be able to feed themselves,” he said. “There is a particular challenge when you don’t own the land you live on.”
Neal, too, has tried urban gardening before, but found that transportation issues limited her ability to maintain a previous effort. The current lot is directly across the street from her residence.
Hodge and Neal set up a meeting with other nearby residents who might want to garden. He said that community buy-in was crucial to the success of the effort. Next steps including cutting out bushes and unwanted trees and treating the soil with composted “zoo poo.”
“We’re thankful for the opportunity to do this,” he said.