An idea borne out of the destruction from the 2020 tornado that hit middle Tennessee, the North Nashville Community Garden blossomed into a place for church congregants and gardening hobbyists alike to commune and heal. It will be featured on Nashville Public Television’s “Volunteer Gardener” program on Thursday, September 23, at 7:30pm, and again on Sunday, September 26, at 9:30am.
The Vanderbilt Divinity School’s Public Theology and Racial Justice Collaborative, led by Associate Director Dr. Teresa Smallwood, was instrumental in bringing together two congregations in north Nashville – St. John AME Church and New Covenant Christian Church – to rebuild St. John AME’s physical church as well as their community. Using design thinking curriculum as taught by American Baptist College (ABC), the North Nashville Community Garden was developed in April 2020 and completed on March 13, 2021 – almost a year to the day the tornado hit.
“This garden is a place of sacrality and serene, not just for the mind and spirit, but also for the body. With this garden, people have the opportunity to participate in caring for themselves and their own community – nourishing themselves, growing their own food, and reaping what they sow, literally,” Smallwood says. “We didn’t just rebuild the churches and build this garden after the tornado. This entire project, with the inclusive input of all the congregants, is a statement of resistance against the gentrification of this area and the food insecurity that ravages this community.”
The garden was funded by a Lilly Endowment “Called to Lives of Meaning and Purpose” grant, which also supported outreach work. With funds from an ABC sub-grant, Excel Builders, led by Elder Dwayne Bell, brought the garden to scale. The Garden layout was conceived and illustrated by local artist, Tricia Townes, sister of Vanderbilt Divinity School’s Dean Emilie. M. Townes.