NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - You’ve heard the saying: "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day ... teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime." That old adage rings true today in several inner-city, public housing communities across the Midstate, where a group of local volunteers are working to make sure fresh produce is available to residents.
They’re doing it by teaching them how to grow healthy and sustainable gardens in their front yards.
“It empowers people to take control of their food sources,” says Janet Arning, who works with Inspiritus, a nonprofit group focused on helping people go from surviving to thriving. By this same gesture, Janet developed the program called Healthy Gardens. “They don’t need anything but the willpower to get out here and pull weeds and plant and water.”
She roams several midstate neighborhoods, with a team of volunteers, offering soil, tools, seeds and the lessons on how to build a sustainable garden, for anyone who’s interested.
“I started wondering what the barriers are to people eating healthy in this community,” she says, acknowledging a problem that exists in many inner-city neighborhoods across the country. Residents, in many cases are not eating healthy. She says the biggest barriers are high costs associated with healthy foods and the lack of transportation or accessibility to the places where those items are available.
The Healthy Gardens program started nine years ago with 12 gardens. Today it's grown to 73 gardens in the Cheatham Place neighborhood downtown Nashville, and 184 gardens throughout Middle Tennessee. All of them in public, subsidized housing neighborhoods.
It’s in the Cheatham Place neighborhood where Janet has seen incredible success.
Take Charlie Jones for example, who’s been managing a garden in his front yard for several years now. He harvests so much fresh produce, that he’s able to share it with others in the community. He also passes along a deep knowledge of working with the earth, that he’s developed over the years.
“Man, it makes me feel like I’m doing something. For me and for everybody else,” says Charlie, who lost both legs due to medical complications. It doesn’t slow him down. Charlie crawls out of his wheelchair and gets in his garden to turn his dirt and sow his seeds. "Get out and enjoy yourselves. Plant your seeds, plant your garden, it will make you feel better."
A few doors down from Charlie’s house, lives a woman who calls herself Big Mama. She too, works a thriving garden, in a place you might be surprised to find one.
“It feels good, to have that kind of peace,” she says about working in her garden. “Especially living where we live at. Everybody’s in your business. A door slams hard and everybody’s looking out their door… trying to see what’s going on.”
Big Mama says her greatest fulfillment comes, not from eating healthy produce herself, but to be able to contribute to the neighborhood.
“You know where I get my greatest enjoyment out of this garden? It’s watching you eat it. You want me to fix you a plate? I feed everybody,” she says.
Like Charlie, Big Mama has dealt with her share of setbacks. She deals with seizures and chronic headaches because of a brain tumor.
“This garden right here,” she says. “This is mine. This is my peace. This will get you hurt if you come over here messing with it.”
As for Janet Arning, who started the program and brought Healthy Gardens to Cheatham Place, Big Mama says it best… “That lady right there, I love that woman. That woman is an inspiration. When you say inspiration, now that’s truly an inspiration, because regardless, she doesn’t have to be out here, but she is.”