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Sowing seeds of joy

Gardens coordinator Jaleta Grissom, at left, visits with Frances Prater as she cores and chops a tomato for a recipe being prepared in the Riverview Terrace kitchen.

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Growing a vegetable garden is a longtime tradition many Warren County residents enjoy. A family that grows a garden together reaps many benefits by gardening. It instills a feeling of self-sufficiency, responsibility and helps build a strong work ethic. It’s a wonderful family-oriented project for the entire family, especially children.
Two community gardens are available in the area, one at Riverview Terrace Assisted Living, and on the grounds of Irving College School. The purpose is to involve people in the community, growing their own food and becoming educated about the process.
Gardens coordinator Jaleta Grissom works tirelessly with both groups, planning, organizing and implementing the projects. They meet at Irving College on Monday evening from 6 – 8 p.m. to work in the garden and play some type of active game with the families. On Tuesday evening from 6 – 8 p.m. they interact with the Riverview Terrace residents to either cook or do an activity. They recently prepared ratatouille with vegetables from the garden, and made hummingbird feeders to go around the area. 
“I really have fun helping the kids and teaching them where their food comes from. It’s really important for them to know this, and to learn with their parents is even better,” said Grissom. “Sometimes we have a food they are not familiar with, and they won’t try it, but if they helped grow it, they will try it and sometimes even like it.”
Tennessee Opportunity Programs (TOPS) has worked with Warren County Schools for nine years through the Academics Inspiring Minds (AIM) Afterschool Program. Funded through the Department of Education, the program has served over 1,500 elementary children over the years.
The Irving College Community Garden started two years ago with a traditional garden. This year’s garden is somewhat different, growing more non-traditional plants. Tomatoes, cucumbers, flowers, peppers and other vegetables grace the hillside beside the school. Heirloom seeds are used, and are saved from year to year. This summer volunteers can find blueberry tomatoes, huge yellow peppers, orange watermelons and Chinese beans.
Grissom  maintains the gardens, working with community partners and planning volunteer activities. This year TOPS worked with Riverview Terrace and the Retired Volunteer Senior Program on the new endeavor. The soil at Riverview is not particularly fertile, but Grissom and her volunteers implemented permaculture methods to slow run-off and to build raised beds. They made the beds from river rock and mulch, worm castings, old wood logs, branches and composted manure.
They have assorted vegetables and lovely flowers and plants for the residents to enjoy. Resident Rebecca Gross was recently breaking beans and chopping tomatoes for a dish.
“It’s fun, it takes me back to the past when I was able to do a garden,” said Gross. “Here they prepare the food for us to enjoy, and we all like looking out at the garden and the beautiful flower beds.”
TOPS has had assistance from many community agencies and businesses, with materials being donated for the projects. They recycle old vegetable and fruit materials through composting to make healthy soil for future gardens. During the school year, Irving College cafeteria staff donated fruit and vegetable waste to the project.
Both garden sites are always seeking volunteers to harvest and consume the produce they grow. Any interested volunteers can contact Grissom at 607-4453.

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