By Sarah Colson
On the corner of Spring and West Pine streets in Johnson City sits the Tree Streets Garden Project. The garden, which had a surprising beginning, is growing relationships as well as vegetation and has encouraged the downtown community to get involved and slow down.
“It’s been a really great thing for the neighborhood and the community,” property owner Roy Andrade said. “It just symbolizes a lot of positive values in terms of sustainability and community and just mindful living.”
Ten years ago, Andrade was on his bicycle, headed from East Tennessee State University toward his home near what is now the site of the garden. Seeing smoke, he was frightened, thinking it was his home on fire. Instead, it was an adjacent house, which burned to the ground.
The lot had been zoned for multi-family, and hoping to avoid construction of apartments next door, Andrade checked into purchasing it. Inquiring of the owner about the property, he ended up purchasing it for no other reason than to ensure it could not be developed into an apartment building or other type of complex.
Five years later in 2010, Johnson Citian Lyn Govette noticed the empty lot and saw potential for a great community garden.
Govette contacted Andrade and asked about the possibility of starting something that could impact the entire community in a positive way. After meeting with the Southside Neighborhood Organization (SNO), Andrade and Govette began planning for how to start up the project.
“She (Govette) approached me about the idea and she had some experience in growing a garden and I was eager to be a part of it,” said Andrade. “It felt like a good thing to do on a lot of levels. My role has just been to donate the property, loan the land so that can happen.”
According to Govette, the garden coordinator, the garden has the potential to educate the community, encourage relationships and even reduce crime.
“Last year, Johnson City got a grant for crime reduction and one of the things the city researched was that having community gardens becomes a point of pride and a source of happiness for communities,” she said, “and the crime rate actually goes down in those towns.”
About 15 families own plots in the garden this season.
Joseph and Amber Delahanty, who live a stone’s throw from the garden and planted last year, said those gardeners are in for a bushel full of benefits.
The Delahantys love what the garden has done for their two young children, Joey, 7 and Juniper, 5.
“This has been an opportunity to encourage them to get to know and work with other community members,” Joseph Delahanty said. “We’ve also always wanted to instill how important it is to be a part of the land—to get to know it, get a better understanding of where their food comes from and that it needs to be cared for.”
For the Delahanty family, one of the happiest consequences of the garden is the provision of food security for families who may need a little extra help during the year.
“Food security is a real problem here in Appalachia,” Joseph Delahanty said, “so the idea of a community garden says there’s enough to go around. This may provide that little bump a family needs to get through the month.”
There haven’t been tests done to specifically determine whether or not the garden is reducing crime just yet, but according to Govette and Andrade, the sense of togetherness that has grown since the garden project started is pay-off enough.
“It’s something people work on together,” Andrade said. “It’s a shared goal. People manage their plots, but they also work on mulching and keeping up the property and watering. There’s community work that can be done. It’s an opportunity for people to get together. Anytime people get together, any reason to get people together, is going to be good.”
Jim Turnbull also owns a plot this season and instead of planting vegetables like most, his favorite thing to plant is flowers. When he first moved from Britain to Johnson City 30 years ago, Turnbull had plenty of room and sunshine to continue his hobby of growing flowers. Then, he moved to a smaller house with lots of shade. Because of the garden, he’s able to continue his hobby and even gave some of his flowers to a woman for her wedding last year.
“I always have more than I can use,” Turnbull said. “Sometimes I just give them to people passing by. It’s wonderful that I can continue to enjoy my hobby and still be able to live in a smaller place.”
To plant in the Tree Streets Garden, members pay a fee of $25 per growing season (April-April) and agree to practice sustainable gardening—no chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides as well as obtaining non GMO seeds or plants from reliable sources. Since the organization has no outside revenue, these fees go towards the water that is pumped to the site as well as various garden maintenance needs.
The garden, in its fourth year of operation, collaborates with Appalachian Learning Academy and BuildItUpTN and other volunteers to reach not only those who plant, but a broader population of downtown Johnson City. Plots remain available for this season. Contact Govette at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
“People get to know each other and hear one another’s stories and it builds character in a neighborhood,” Andrade said. “From my standpoint, it’s lovely to have all the activity next door. People are in a good mood when they’re gardening. They’re laughing and enjoying one another. There’s also something Zen about it. There’s no instant pay-off. It requires patience. The things you do today, you won’t see the benefits for several weeks or a month or so. It encourages people to kind of slow down. Anything that encourages people to slow down in today’s world has to be good.”