A local nonprofit organization dedicated to community engagement and promoting healthy lifestyles is kick-starting a program to encourage people in Wilson County to take more stock in how they get their food.
Vine Branch Fellowship, based in Mt. Juliet, has several branches devoted to respective ministries. One of those branches, Healthy Eating At the Table seeks to encourage locals to grow their own food but the fellowship isn’t going it alone.
The program is collaborating with the Wilson County Civic League and University of Tennessee ag extension agent Leslyne Watkins. Throughout the week, members of Vine Branch Fellowship gathered supplies to build raised garden beds at the Civic League’s location, 321 E. Market St., in Lebanon.
Executive Director of Vine Branch Fellowship Alex Scott, said this program aims to “introduce healthier food to students as well as adults.”
Scott said that his son is diabetic, and as a result, he and his wife became “entrenched in this healthy aspect because we had to. So why not share what we learned?”
Scott’s wife, Shené, is a certified nutritionist and program director with Vine Branch Fellowship. She also worked at Gladeville Middle School as an educator where the school’s agriculture teacher had a small garden plot and a chicken coop. The fruits and vegetables grown served to supplement the educational aspects of cultivation.
“We currently have a garden at a Wilson County school and are working on a proposal with UT Extension and Lebanon Special School District to place gardens in schools within that district,” said Shené Scott.
Watkins mentioned to Shené Scott the Civic League used to have a garden and may be interested in creating another one. Shené Scott said that when she contacted the Civic League and presented the purpose at its board meeting, the seeds for the new community garden were planted.
Watkins said that she reached out to Vine Branch Fellowship through her supervisor after learning about the garden at Gladeville Middle School.
“I was interested in starting a school garden somewhere within the county and since we had similar interests it worked out for us to partner up together,” she said.
According to Watkins, there are currently two gardens in the works, one at a local school, pending approval and the one at the Civic League.
Watkins said that her role with HEAT will be from “more of an educational standpoint,” but she still plans to be hands-on helping in the garden. However her major role will be “conducting educational programming for those who will benefit from the gardens directly.”
Since nutrition education is Watkins’ specialty, she wants to continue focusing on the benefits to individuals growing their own food, “incorporating more fruits and vegetables into their diet, and the physical activity aspect of gardening and yard work.”
She admits that she doesn’t have much of a green thumb herself, but said, “Extension offers a lot of information and assistance for those wanting to utilize land and resources to grow food.”
Combined, these elements will make the HEAT gardening program and its mission possible. Shené Scott said, “The purpose of HEAT Gardening is to reduce chronic illness within adults and children by promoting the value of eating healthy foods with lessons which educate individuals about the natural cultivation of food through gardening.”
Vine Branch Fellowship will work with participants to install raised garden beds on location. This includes the soil and planting seeds and plants. The participants choose how large or small they wish the garden to be and what they would like to grow based upon the season.
Shené Scott said that the projects were made possible through contributions from community businesses such as Home Depot in Lebanon, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Target and Needham’s Nursery in Mt. Juliet, Tractor Supply in Old Hickory and Grant Cedar Mill in Gordonsville.
The Scotts started HEAT after observing the rise in chronic health conditions related to poor nutrition. Shené Scott said, “For the first time in human history, obesity is a bigger health crisis than hunger.”
His role at Vine Branch is just one of many hats that Scott wears. He’s also a full-time firefighter in Nashville and a licensed minister. Hence the origin of the organization’s name, which Scott said is intended to communicate the interconnectedness of the community. “The vines of the branch join us with other individual entities.”
HEAT represents half of the fellowship’s Nourish program, which primarily focuses on catalyzing healthy lifestyles. The other half is called Snacks and Meals to Impact and Lift Each Soul, or SMILES.
“SMILES is designed to put a smile on the face of those who may be going through difficult times by providing them with a snack or meal,” Shené Scott said.
The Scott’s ministry provides food to individuals and families within other organizations, delivering goodie bags to residents in Elmcroft of Lebanon, Mariston of Providence in Mt. Juliet and the Ronald McDonald House in Nashville.