written by Shae Keane & Emily Bidgood —
Food Forest Friday is this week, October 20th!
On the corner of an urban residential Johnson City block, a surprising park emerges perched on the edge of the road. Not only is there green space and a little pavilion to rest, everything growing there is edible. A sign gives its name: the Mountain Home Food Forest. Traces of kids play are evident in the trodden paths, painted rain barrels and craft projects hanging on the pavilion.
According to one of its coordinators, Shae Keane, a Program Educator with Build It Up East Tennessee, the Food Forest is, “a community edible park accessible to everyone where food trees, nuts, berries, herbs, and veggies are grown, both to serve as a community source of fresh grown foods and to serve as a place of learning.” The Food Forests (Mountain Home FF; Buffalo FF; Pedro’s FF) first were planted roughly 4 years ago through the community organization Build It Up and funds from the Johnson City Police’s Crime Prevention program. The Food Forest is now fiscally sponsored by the ARC&D.
Every week Shae Keane, her partner Taylor Malone, and a cadre of volunteers from ETSU’s Nutrition Department, Science Hill High School and area parents, host a free outdoors education program for neighborhood children ages 6-12. An average of 15 regularly attend, most living in the neighborhood and at the Carver Housing Authority. Shae blogs weekly about each program at her website: www.theseedisenough.wordpress.com. Nutrition, gardening, mindfulness and cooking are a few of the nature-based themes. As well as community organizing.
This Friday October 20th the kids practice community leadership by hosting Food Forest Friday for the neighborhood. This Friday’s program will be the sixth Food Forest Friday potluck that the kids have put on and their 2nd fall celebration. It will be held from 5pm-7pm at the Mountain Home Food Forest, 500 Wilson Avenue, Johnson City, TN.
“Last Food Forest Friday had about 50 community members show up,” says Keane, “But every week we are here with the kids learning about sustainable food growing, practicing food justice, and showing kids they can find peace and connection in nature.”
The Oct. 20 event will be a potluck, but the hosts also cook dishes to share using ingredients donated from local farmers and food growers. Attendees are invited to bring a potluck dish to share if you are able. The hosts will be teaching primitive skills fire starting. Dressing up for Halloween is welcomed. All ages are welcome and the event is free.
Funding for the Food Forest Friday and its regular programming is provided by the Washington County Community Foundation on a 2016-2018 grant, a sub-fund of the East Tennessee Foundation. The mission of the WCCF is to provide life literacy skills to at-risk youth. After 18 months of programming Keane and her fellow instructors already notice big changes in their student participants: more knowledge of healthy food choices; helping cook at home; able to calm themselves, listen to and respect others.
The program also accepts donations, and the youth of the Food Forest will be selling their harvest-theme wreaths (made in partnership with Aunt Willie’s Wildflowers of Blountville) and hand pressed cider, made with a cider press donated by Fresh Market, on Friday November 3rd at Founders Pavilion as part of Appalachian Fusion community fundraiser event.
Keane says it best, “Growing food grows community.”