New St. Mark’s Community Garden


Something wonderful is happening at St. Mark’s Community Center, 481 Alabama Avenue — the construction of a Community Garden. This collaborative project between St. Mark’s Community Association (SMCA), Growing Roots, Mountain T.O.P., the Roberson Project, and the University Farm is largely funded by the South Cumberland Community Fund.

Last Spring, Evelyn Patton, the President of SMCA, said she would love to see a community garden for Sewanee’s historic African American neighborhood, especially since incorporating fresh produce in home cooked meals is not easy for some of the St. Mark’s Community members. Fresh produce can be expensive, has a short shelf life, and requires planning and preparation. What if making fresh produce available was a community effort? Evelyn’s idea started a series of developments that has led to a nearly completed raised-bed garden that will be ready to plant at the beginning of this growing season.

At the same time we were discussing Evelyn’s idea, we became aware of a collaborative grant available from the South Cumberland Community Fund, so we brought together partner organizations with overlapping goals.

Woody Register and the staff and students with The Roberson Project have been involved in the St. Mark’s Community for several years, and provided much of the initial structure that made this project possible. The Roberson Project is continuing its support of SMCA with funding, staff, student, and volunteer time.

Growing Roots, led by Stephanie Colchado Kelley, has provided expertise, resources, connections, and sustainability plans for managing the garden. Growing Roots is in the process of hiring a gardening team that will manage the garden and support workshops around food preparation and garden related health.

Annabel Hines, Service Area Manager with Mountain T.O.P., has led the construction aspect and provided much of the skilled volunteer labor, tools, and equipment needed. Mountain T.O.P. has also been able to start building the relationships necessary to identify how they can help neighborhood residents with home repairs and improvements.

The assistance of Carolyn Hoagland, University Farm manager, has been invaluable. She has provided expertise and resources at every step of the process, from improving the garden design to providing heavy equipment, as well as delightful young workers connected to Farm programs.

Over the many weeks of meetings, a surprising dynamic has developed. Bringing our various organizations together has created an energy centered on the needs and desires of the St. Mark’s Community members. Community members are able to feed workers, make supply runs, and tell stories about the history of the neighborhood. University students are finding a place where they enjoy “hanging out” as are other volunteers from the neighborhood and the wider Sewanee community. Individuals from the surrounding area with ties to the St. Mark’s Community are thrilled to see this garden program developing and want to be involved. There is now something going on at the Center several days each week making it a center for community relationships to take root and grow.

The finished garden will enable plans for a sustainable year-round garden program that includes choosing what to plant, working with a garden team to grow and harvest produce, and holding workshops on food processing and other health-related topics — all of which are open to anyone who wants to be involved. The garden beds are raised with wide, level walkways to make them easily accessible to people of all abilities.

Watching this project develop has been almost magical — there is a new pride about the improvements in and around the Center, a welcoming and inclusive culture, and a valued social space with new and reconnected friendships. Looking back, the progress since the St. Mark’s Community Association was reconstituted a year ago is a bit stunning. And plans for programming related to the garden and enhancing the daily lives of community members and anyone who wants to be included are already being realized.

Keep an eye out for planned landscaping, outdoor seating areas, and planters of pollinators and herbs. See people playing Pickleball on the old basketball court and look for development of other recreational spaces. Check out the Association website at <stmarkssewanee.org> and consider renting St. Mark’s Community Center for your next event. Let us know if you would like more information by contacting <stmarkscommunityassoc@gmail.com> or pop in to see for yourself.

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