Community Garden To Table

by Becca George

The farm to table movement has taken Middle Tennessee by storm. This initiative of having fresh local produce at your fingertips or in your back yard garden requires a lot of planning and planting; planning, planting and resources that are not available to all of the Murfreesboro community. But now there is a solution. Murfreesboro Community Garden on State Street, gives everyone a chance to have a garden in their “back yard.”

The concept for Murfreesboro Community Garden grew from the ground up, literally. When Autumn Shultz and her husband, along with their then-six-month-old daughter, moved to Murfreesboro in 2007 they began gardening on their back patio with all small pots, containers and anything that would fit within the confines of a concrete slab. “The first year it did so well we thought, ‘if we had a garden in the ground it would do even better’,” explains Shultz.

The Shultz family then started looking for a place in the community where they could go and plant their harvest on a larger scale. When they found there wasn’t anywhere for community gardening, Autumn decided she wanted to start something like that. “Our daughter started getting older and we watched her get excited about the plants, she would light up about vegetables that she hadn’t even tried yet,” remember Shultz.

As dorms and apartments started popping up all over Murfreesboro Autumn realized there was a need now, more than ever, for a central location to garden for those who don’t have the space or the resources. “I wanted to be a part of it and decided I wanted to make one,” says Shultz. She partnered with Murfreesboro City Schools and started teaching gardening at Franklin Heights. She looked for a space and finally found one on State Street with the help of a local church.

Key Memorial United Methodist Church had two plots of soil behind their church. One that they kept for their members and one that they had waiting for the right person to come along and start a garden for their neighborhood. In stepped the right person, Autumn Shultz. The garden runs on volunteers and donations. They plant everything that is donated and meet every Saturday from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm March through September. Volunteers can pop in at any time and if they come to help they are free to take what is ripe that day. Volunteers are not limited to the Saturday hours, Shultz tries to open up the garden on Sundays or after work as needed so that anyone who wants to come and garden can feel like it is truly for them.

“It is a really cool way to get to garden with a lot of people from different age groups and ethnicities,” says Shultz. They don’t suggest kids stay out of the dirt but encourage them to get in and get their hands dirty. They also provide volunteer hours needed both for school and judge requirements.

“We are very open and flexible,” explains Autumn, “If someone came up to me and said they had a bunch of extra corn seeds they wanted to plant, if we have room I say go for it!” The garden is truly fueled by community involvement, especially the neighborhood around them. “The produce mostly goes to the neighborhood,” says Autumn, “We walk around or we yell out the window {of the car} that the tomatoes are ripe and they can go pick them. The produce benefits the neighborhood and the volunteers.” In the throes of summer when the heat keeps people out of the garden and in the house, Autumn took extra produce to the Room at the Inn.

Dubbed by the neighborhood children, “The Garden People”, the Shultz have opened up an opportunity to get excited about vegetables at any age. “We are very loose and open, we created an environment where people could come and learn how to garden but also bring their kids and teach them to garden,” explains Shultz. They have had anyone from the kids who live near the church to college students who want fresh food for juicing come to help. “This is one of my passions,” says Autumn. “We are building community. When you are out there digging and sweating you really get to meet the neighbors.”

Some of the neighbors are already experts in the soil and have schooled Autumn on a thing or two. A lady last year saw Autumn trying to tie up tomatoes with some string and came by with a Ziploc bag full of panty hose to help her tie them up. “Who knew, they are amazingly stretchy,” laughs Autumn.

“I want everyone, no matter what level of gardening to be able to come out and learn or teach us something,” says Autumn, “We are just a big group sharing information.” The community garden offers standard produce such as cucumbers, corn, squash and tomatoes but also plants different vegetables that offer learning opportunities. Last year they planted dragon beans, which are yellow with a pink stripe, rainbow chard and radishes. Autumn explains that radishes pop out of the ground when they are ripe. “It is really about the people and what they want to learn to grow,” says Autumn.

Gardening is not just about the produce but also brings out a learning aspect of how each thing grows from the ground. “It gives you so much respect for what you are eating when you know if you are eating the root or the flower,” explains Autumn. “Kids don’t know vegetables outside the grocery store. {By working in the community garden} they get to see that carrots grow underground and corn grows up. It shatters the misconception that kids won’t eat vegetables.” She explains that you have to show kids how the vegetable grows and get them involved and they will want to eat them. “Kids are shocked,” laughs Shultz. “It is a whole world that is opened up to them.”

Murfreesboro Community Garden officially became a 501(c)(3) and added five board members but are looking to add a couple more “hands on deck.” She would love to see the idea of a community garden grow and have them spread throughout our community. “Everyone should have a space where they can go garden locally,” says Autumn. They have to have a lot of hands to manage the work but the community has truly responded to their efforts through funding the organization, sponsoring the garden, donating tools and giving their time.

Volunteers can just show up on a Saturday and Autumn will give them a pair of work gloves and an education. The only thing required is showing up in old clothes and shoes they can work in and Autumn, along with her board members and regular volunteers, will give them the tools. “We do a bit of education but mostly we are weeding and watering and picking what is ripe,” says Autumm. “We are just tending to the garden.”

For More Information:
Autumn Shultz
Phone: (615) 497-5936
Volunteer Saturday 3:00-5:00 or call Autumn for alternate times
806 E State Street, Murfreesboro, TN