Build It Up East TN — Helping East TN Grow!

“The mission of Build It Up East TN is to improve the health of our community and economy and preserve our region’s cultural heritage through the promotion of local, sustainably grown food.”

Founded in 2011 in Johnson City, TN, Build It Up (BIU), is an all-volunteer run organization dedicated to building and supporting a comprehensive food justice program through reclaiming local food culture and supporting producers by strengthening the local food system.  To accomplish these goals, the team implements multiple community involving programs:

Backyard Garden Program:  With support from Grow Appalachia, the Backyard Garden program has taken off.  In 2016, 25 families in four counties collectively grew over 8,000 lbs. of food.  This year the program has been expanded to 45 gardens.  According to Lexy Close, Projects Coordinator, “You don’t have to have any gardening experience, just an interest in working hard and eating healthy food.”  More experienced gardeners can join as part of the Market Garden program, producing to sale at area markets.  Beginning gardeners focus on gaining new skills and using fresh produce at home.  BIU offers support every step of the way!

To learn more about the Backyard Garden program:

Read success stories from the Garden: 

Don’t miss out on BIU News and the Garden Newsletter!  Sign up here:

Food Forests:  A food forest is a plot of urban land, usually consisting of fruiting trees, nuts, and berries along with seasonal additions.  The forest is open to all to harvest, providing food for humans and habitat for fauna.  These edible parks are built based on the principles of Permaculture, a holistic approach of raising food while building a healthy ecosystem.  The initial work includes building top soils and planting. The result is a self-sustaining system producing food, medicine, and other resources with little human intervention.  They also provide much needed green space in urban areas.  BIU has created three of these little Edens in Johnson City and helped initiate one at the Science Hill Alternative Center.

Tree Streets Food Forest – The park includes apples, an Asian pear, blue plum, elderberries, service berry, fig, gooseberry, raspberries, blackberries, pawpaws, and native persimmon.  The food forest is located on the corner of Maple and Buffalo on land donated by the First United Methodist Church.  

Mountain Home Food Forest – Located at 500 Wilson Ave., this park provides meeting and learning space for Build It Up’s Sowing Seeds program, an afterschool educational initiative to engage young minds with nature, the food system, and solidify a sense of community.  It has quickly become a community meeting place.  On any given evening, you can find children and families enjoying the green space, planting, and harvesting.  The park includes muscadine, mulberry, beach plum, hardy kiwi, American hazelnut, elderberries, horsetail, jujube, apples, pears, and more.

Pedro’s Food Forest – Located on land off Roan St. generously donated by a neighbor of BIU organizers Shae and Taylor, Pedro’s Food Forest was the site of Build It Up’s first Community Food Forest Celebration.  The forest provides fruit and nuts, and a wonderful green space for neighborhood children to explore and play.  Because it is located on private land, it serves the direct neighborhood and isn’t generally open to the broader public.

Build It Up KIDS!:  The newest branch of Build It Up’s community work, Build It Up KIDS! “provides opportunities for children to grow in eco-literacy through connecting in nature, learning how to grow their own food, practicing the art of seed saving, crafting with natural materials, and exploring the Food Forests.”  Sowing Seeds, an afterschool program held at the Mountain Home Food Forest has swiftly become the most popular.  The program further engages the community by relying interns.  According to Shae Keane, BIU Project Coordinator, the interns “are the backbone and heart of this program – they contribute creativity to the curriculum, important teaching skills, and attention and care for each individual child.”  Sowing Seeds provides children with a safe space to gather while gaining important life skills, creating community, and learning about the environment and food system.  The children are engaged from the ground up, planting and harvesting, giving them ownership of the Food Forest.

For more information about Sowing Seeds:

Shae Keane, Sowing Seeds Project Coordinator, puts out an excellent blog detailing all the wonderful things the Sowing Seeds children are doing!  Take a look:

If you would like to become part of the team contact Shae Keane at

 “Plant a seed that will bear fruit for our community!”

Build It Up East TN is a volunteer run organization, and your donations go directly to the projects helping our community learn, grow, and eat.  You can donate to support a single project or to their general fund which goes toward purchasing much needed supplies.  Monetary donations can be made through BIUp’s fiscal sponsor, the Appalachian RC&D Council:  Donate Now!

Build It Up also accepts material donations of gardening equipment, plants, seeds and other supplies. Please Contact them if you would like to donate material supplies.

All donations are tax deductible.