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Local Heroes
Sizwe Herring, Earthmatters Tennessee
by Marne Duke

"Some people grow tomatoes and corn. We grow compost. Our crop is soil," Sizwe Herring, the Executive Director of Earthmatters Tennessee, says with a broad smile. On a 3-acre plot donated by the state, Herring and his team of dedicated volunteers, lovingly dote on organic discards like coffee grounds and leaves that "dont belong in a land fill. Tucked away behind high privets and a chain link fence in Nashvilles Sunnyside Neighborhood this oasis for learning, the George W. Carver Food Park, is where they teach by composting nourishing both the earth and community.

Initiated under the Green Neighborhoods Project, the Carver Food Park accepts yard clippings and leaves from neighbors on Saturdays and the yearly autumn Leaf-Lift, as well as organic matter from restaurants and farmers markets. "We are trying to be a part of looking at waste differently, explains Herring. Mounds of leaves and decomposing vegetables provide an opportunity to build what really makes a garden grow - rich compost. But its the working together, the community spirit, that truly pulls it all together.

"I learned from my mother early on, that there was strength in numbers in the garden," says Herring. Every Saturday morning he initiates new volunteer gardeners, and greets returning volunteers as old friends. Together they sift through several round piles of compost and the citys largest natural land sculpture - a heart- shaped pile of decomposing leaves.

Herring's garden students include master gardeners, neighborhood youths, and even a city-councilwoman. His understated demeanor veils the strength that Herring has brought to this piece of earth and the community gardening movement in Nashville. Stalwart, his unwavering commitment has affected hundreds of people working with community gardens in Nashville. For over 17 years, Herring has passed along both valuable compost and knowledge.

As past board member of the American Community Gardening Association, Herring has had the opportunity to visit many of the most successful gardens in the country and continues to pass along what he learned to other Nashville communities looking to bring people together through gardening. "Good gardens take planning and help, and we've done that for nearly every commu- nity garden in the city and provided compost to start the gardens." says Herring.

This rich compost is available to community gardeners who are starting their plots, and to the public through a donation. A $20 donation is rewarded with a 5 pound bag of perfectly sifted and mixed compost, replete in its own recycled flour bag from local bakeries. Herring also hopes to start Nashvilles first Community Supported Compost program in the fall.

Herring inherited his fathers crafts of re-using and recycling, growing up in the inner-city of Detroit. "My dad was all about turning one mans trash into his own treasure. And thats literally what I do everyday."

While attending the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in the 1980s Herring was struck by a green bolt of lightening while walking in the footsteps of Dr. George W. Carver. "I got to talk to the trees that he talked to, learn about his life intimately, and was given his divine intervention," says Herring. That's what still moves and inspires me and wanting to pass that on to others."

But its the working together, the community spirit, that truly pulls it all together.

At his inspirations namesake garden, Herring passes on his passion while working in the 30 raised vegetable and herb beds and numerous compost piles. "We've created a place where someone can say this is my job and they have something to be proud of," explains Herring. "We all have an intimate connection with food. Our mothers and grandmother have stories about the foods they ate they pass on. Its something that can hold a family and a community together."

Community Gardens in Nashville
CE McGruder Community Garden
Traditional community vegetable garden and planned by senior\u2019s in the community, although they are always looking for help and volunteers.
2013 25th Avenue North
Leslie Speller-Henderson
(615) 254-7277

EarthMatters Tennessee/George W. Carver Food Park
Community Gardens and Organic Compost Site
One of Nashville\u2019s longest lasting community gardens, with opportunity to learn about composting and gardening.
W. Sizwe Herring, C.P.E.
1001 Gale Lane
(615) 252-6953

Edgehill Community Garden
Located at 14th Ave. S & Horton Ave.
Coordinated by the Organized Neighbors of Edgehill, the garden is operated as a place to grow food and as a place to be with people who share the Edgehill neighborhood.
Contact: Brenda Morrow, 256-4617

Napier School Garden
An \u201cN\u201d shaped raised bed is planted by student with help from counselors and teachers at Napier. The school is always looking for donations of plants and supplies. This year they will take advantage of the extended school year program and use the garden to learn science skills.
60 Fairfield Ave.
Jane Gough
(615) 291-6400, x123.

Nashville Urban Harvest
More than a garden, this acre plot is an urban farm that produces enough food for a 25 family Community Supported Agriculture program. Led by a group local volunteers and managed by a part-time farm manager.
1121 57th Ave. North
Jeff Middlebrooks
Shelby Park Discovery Garden
This garden is centered around learning about both growing food and the natural world. Stop by the Shelby Park Discovery Garden Wednesday evenings or Saturday mornings for volunteering, learning opportunities and periodic organized activities.
401 S. 20th Street (behind the Center)
Christie Wiser
(615) 352-6299

Wedgewood Urban Gardens
A community garden started in the spring of 2007 with emphasis on design, to create a park atmosphere as well as food production. With room for expansion they hope to be able to call ourselves an "urban farm" in the near future.613 Wedgewood Avenue
Gigi Gaskins
(615) 491-9009

The Sylvan Street Garden
New this year to Kirkpatrick Park, just off Shelby Avenue in east Nashville. The garden is roughly 350 square feet and houses several raised beds for vegetable production.
Gregory Director (773) 593-5895.

The Riverside Village Community Garden
This new garden is behind Sip coffee shop and is open for volunteers and learning.
1402 Mcgavock Pike
Contact: Laura Eve at