Applicants welcome for backyard gardening program

Published 8:02 am Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Contributed Photo The number of backyard gardens in East Tennessee is growing thanks to education and outreach by Built It Up East Tennessee.

Contributed Photo The number of backyard gardens in East Tennessee is growing thanks to education and outreach by Built It Up East Tennessee.

From seeding to harvesting and feeding, Build It Up East Tennessee is improving sustainability one backyard garden at a time.
For the second year, the local non-profit organization is offering the opportunity for residents or organizations in and around Johnson City to learn to grow their own food.
Build It Up East Tennessee first introduced the backyard garden program last year, which yielded ten new productive backyard gardens. This year, that number will increase to 25, including some returning gardeners.
“The goal is to teach people to become more food secure through gardening,” program leader Lexy Close said. “Anyone from the community is welcome to apply, though we will prioritize lower-income families who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to start gardening. If we get funding again in 2017, then participants will have the option to stay in for a second year, but with a focus on market gardening.”
Applications are now being accepted through Jan. 31 and are available online at
A community meeting will take place this Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Willow Tree Coffeehouse at 216 E. Main St., Johnson City. The public is invited to attend and learn more about the program and how to apply.
“Applicants just need an interest in working hard and eating healthy food,” said Close. “Experienced gardeners are welcome to apply as a Market Gardener and grow food for sale to local markets. Beginning gardeners will be given the option to sell extra produce, but their main focus will be on gaining new skills and using fresh produce at home.”
No gardening experience is required.
“This is geared towards people that have never gardened before, or who maybe grew up with a garden, but now don’t even know where to start,” said Close. “We’re trying to walk people through everything they need to know to grow their own food.”
The program work includes but is not limited to bed preparation, planting, weeding, mulching, watering and harvesting. Close said participants should expect to spend around 10 hours a week with their gardens, and that bed preparation will likely begin in March, weather permitting.
“Gardening isn’t easy,” she said. “It’s fun and very rewarding, but it requires a lot of work, and we want to state that right up front.”
Six workshops are included in the program and highlight the following topics: planning a garden, planting a garden, maintaining a garden, preserving the harvest, healthy cooking and season extension. Close said these are an opportunity for participants to check in, troubleshoot issues, learn valuable skills and receive materials.
Resources like plants, seeds, fertilizer, a hoe and hand trowel, organic pest and disease control, season extension and help with tilling up new gardens are provided with funding from Grow Appalachia, a foundation in Berea, Kentucky.
“It can be expensive to access a tiller, to get seeds, fertilizer and tools, and we’re providing all that,” said Close.
While applicants need to have access to land for a garden, owning the land is not required.
“If you don’t own property, you can talk with your landlord, neighbors, family, friends or contact an area community garden to find suitable space,” Close said. “Build It Up is willing to help connect participants with land, so even if you don’t currently have access, please feel free to apply.”
This year, gardens must be within 25 miles of Johnson City limits. Close said that residents living further away have had trouble attending workshops in the past.
“We don’t want participation in the program to become a burden to the families we accept in,” she said. “However, if folks think they can manage that, we’d be happy to have them apply.”
Special consideration will be given to families that would not otherwise be able to have a garden
The application and more details about participation are available at
Build It Up East TN is a small non-profit founded in 2012 with the mission of improving the health of the community and economy and preserving the region’s cultural heritage through the promotion of local, sustainably grown food. Build It Up has created two community edible parks in Johnson City, a community garden in Erwin, and taught numerous workshops on gardening and healthy eating.
For more information, visit the website or call 423-631-5740.

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