Stephen Lewis never grew a plant in his life before obtaining a Master’s degree in Plant Science from Tennessee State University. The Nashville native runs AG in the City an organization which promotes agriculture education in the West End. He provides access to fresh produce grown by black farmers every Saturday at the Shawnee Farmer’s Market in French Plaza. “I want to spread awareness to people who look like me about the diverse careers that exist in agriculture,” says Lewis. By day he works as a horticulturalist with Kentucky State University. This work has become increasingly important now that more West End neighbors are becoming interested in growing their own food and rely on Lewis’ knowledge and expertise. “We build raised beds, forage mushrooms and teach people different techniques to be successful gardeners.”
Parkland resident Dr. Thomas Edison recently installed a high tunnel greenhouse on his property where he grows tomatoes, corn, peppers, okra, asparagus, pecans, apples, peaches and raises chickens.
Edison purchased the long abandoned home next door to him, demolished it and uses the space as a farm. “My goal is to have this so grown up that I dont have to use a lawn mower or weed eater.” Agriculture is a great solution for vacant and abandoned property in the West End as it makes us think of our neighborhoods in new and creative ways. Repurposing the lot next door created a space for neighbors to gather and share resources as Edison readily offers seeds, plant starts, and advice on growing methods.
I purchased a vacant lot from Louisville Metro for $500.00 through the Cut It, Keep It program. I’m transforming my lot into a pollinator garden with native Kentucky wildflowers. The space is close to the Parkland Community Garden where neighbors grow food in raised beds on land once occupied by a Piggly Wiggly. My garden will attract the bees, beetles, moths and butterflies that are essential to sustaining our food supply through pollination. I obtained a 17′ x 48′ greenhouse through a grant offered by the USDA, just like Dr. Edison. It extends the growing season so I’m able to farm through the winter. I can grow enough vegetables to feed my neighbors providing access to fresh vegetables which are not readily available in our neighborhoods.
“We exist in a food desert. Access and cultivation are essential to combating this,” says Michael George, Director of the Aquapunx Consortium. “There is plenty of land for growing in the West End, but the Aquapunx are leveraging science and technology so agriculture is palatable for a younger generation.” The Aquapunx are a group of middle schoolers using aquaponics, a system of aquaculture where waste produced by fish provides nutrients necessary for plants like lettuce and kale to grow. They placed 2nd in the State Science Technology and Leadership Program Competition for the past two years. They’ve also traveled to Hazard, KY to teach their peers how to build aquaponics systems. “We consider ourselves super heroes fighting against food insecurity. We all have to eat so the number of people we can protect is infinite.”
Our West End network of gardeners is growing and interacting in order to sustain a culture time and modern convenience have nearly erased. I remember watching my mother and grandmother plant flowers in their yards and never understood the importance. Now, those plants and flowers have greater purpose. Nature is reclaiming our space as high grass and weeds overtake buildings and alleys. Urban agriculture can redistribute the order, allowing us to experience nature’s beauty and maintain a modern way of life.