If getting your hands dirty and a little hard work sounds like your kind of fun than consider community gardening. Imagine how good it will feel to grow your own food and then share that with your family and friends at your next barbecue or dinner party. You can make new friends, get free exercise, and enjoy some fresh air when you learn the fine art of gardening. Growing plants isn’t just about fun and food though. By growing green leafy plants you are also creating more oxygen and reducing air pollutants. Community gardens support communities both through healthier food options and opportunities to meet neighbors. Gardens can also reduce crime and increase property values.
Khann Chov is the Farm Manager at CAC Beardsley Community Farm in her home state of Tennessee. With an impressive background in environmental sustainability and education, she is part of a team creating a healthier community. Together they educate their community on the value of sustainable and organic gardening. Through workshops, tours, field trips, and volunteering people learn about urban gardening, sustainable agricultural practices, seed saving, composting, and bee-keeping. The farm donates 4,000 pounds of fresh produce each year to local food pantries and also offers 30 plots for local residents to use along with free water and a “tool-lending library”.
What inspired you to work at a community farm? Eating thoughtfully, prepared delicious food was extremely important in my family, and so was hard work, and of course play. I grew up in a large family where household chores were organized like clockwork. I shared a bedroom with my three sisters, and my parents had a vegetable garden, and a large herb garden. My parents loved to feed others; we’ve always owned industrial sized woks, pots, and colanders! My parents voluntarily prepared food for nearly all Cambodian weddings in Chattanooga, which they immensely enjoyed.
My parents’ diligence today, and during my childhood never fails to amaze me. My father was a mechanic and worked 12-hour days, five days a week, and also worked every Saturday for 6 hours. It is his hard work and perseverance that has inspired me to work physically and mentally hard. I love the physical work at Beardsley, and working with members of the community to grow produce for those in need. My parents’ sharing spirit continues to inspire me.
It wasn’t until the end of my college years that I imagined I would work to foster awareness for community service and environmental stewardship. Although I had studied Mandarin and Business at the University of Tennessee, my yearlong study abroad trip to China redirected my attention towards environmental advocacy. I was struck by the pollution in China, its litter-ridden streets, and clear-cut mountains. I was also overwhelmed by the mass consumerism and advertisements that lit up the streets. China was transforming rapidly, and its environment was suffering. I was moved to teach others to take personal steps to minimize their impact on the environment, and Beardsley Farm was a perfect place to teach.
What steps did you take to start this particular journey? Throughout my life, I have treasured learning through experiences and have sought out opportunities to learn in non-traditional classroom settings like those learned in China.
After college, I served with the Community Action Committee (CAC) AmeriCorps for two years. I worked with four elementary schools and helped facilitate the composting of school lunches, as well as organize after school garden clubs. I also dedicated a year to educating middle and high school students about water quality, and ways to keep our watershed clean through hands-on lessons and activities.
It was an incredible experience to help form lifelong impressions in children and teachers who were beginning to see our natural environment with compassion. I witnessed a growth in their understanding of environmental science and issues through these applied learning experiences. I decided to pursue my Masters in Environmental Education through the Audubon Expedition Institute, with a goal to continue teaching others about personal life changes that positively impact the local environment.
Beardsley Community Farm encourages experiential learning for people of all ages. Quite often, children and adults sow vegetable seeds, or pick fruit off the vine for the first time in their lives. A simple act, but these experiences are unforgettable, and even transformative.
What was or are the hardest obstacle(s) to overcome in getting your message to the masses? Some of our encounters with visitors, volunteers, and students at CAC Beardsley Community Farm are so brief. An average field trip or visit lasts about two hours at the farm. My hope is that I can help encourage our many visitors to try to garden, or to eat healthier, or support local farmers. Small steps make a big difference; if I can reach one child out of a field trip of 25, it’s a big deal. One of the hardest things to accept is that I can’t encourage everyone to want to garden or eat vegetables. I am happy that people will remember their experiences at Beardsley Farm. Taste buds do change, but it may take a while, even years. Thus my goal is to help create positive memories that children will ponder for years to come.
What is your proudest accomplishment so far in relation to your work? Creating dozens of partnerships with community organizations, garden clubs, farmers, chefs and restaurants, our City and County officials, faith based groups, and school groups has been extremely important to my work at Beardsley Farm. I am reminded of how much the Knoxville community supports Beardsley Community Farm’s goals, efforts and accomplishments. The range of support has been diverse and plentiful: I have been grateful for volunteer groups, service learning projects such as a drip irrigation system and a rain garden, financial support, donations of supplies, pro-bono, LEED-certified architectural designs towards Beardsley’s future education center, and contributions (produce, time, talent) towards fundraising initiatives like farm-to-table suppers. The support is overwhelmingly generous and uplifting.
How can people get involved either through your work or in their own communities? Volunteer at community gardens, share gardening skills with others, share produce that you grew yourself, and cook with each other. Donate time or money to an organization you care about and that cares about you and your community.
Learn more and get involved at www.beardsleyfarm.org
You can find a local community garden near you through the American Community Garden Association website at: www.ACGA.LocalHarvest.org.
This interview is from a book that includes 10 other amazing people who are creating positive change. You can read the full book and buy a copy for your school at Bookemon.com. Buy the e-book for 99 Cents on Amazon.com.