Community gardens and local farms take care of their own
In a town known mostly for its music and nightlife, much is changing and has changed.
A tourist boom in recent years has sent the city to exploding, in ways great and small, sometimes at the detriment of its lifelong citizens and long ago relocators bent on making middle Tennessee a home they can love, grow and invest in.
Two such women are making their adopted communities in Nashville thrive.
Nella “Ms. Pearl” Frierson and Cynthia Capers, are both a part of the storied past of this great city and, most importantly, its bright future. Both women have a passion for good food and community. But that’s just the headline.
Garden & Health spoke to these small business owners and community leaders to gain a greater understanding of the depth of their impact and the reasons why sustainable living, growing, and feeding their communities means so much to them.
“I knew I came into the world to be a mother,” Frierson (Ms. Pearl) states declaratively. Then she laughs the kind of laugh that instantly lifts one’s spirits and continues, “Now, this is important to me. I have reared up to 35-40 children and grown people!”
Ms. Pearl laughs again before continuing to tell her story.
The mother of five, grandmother of 6, and proxy mama and grandma to countless – Ms. Frierson is Montessori trained through Belmont University, a Certified Permaculturalist from Earth Activist Training, a Life Coach trained by Radiant Coaches Academy, a Cosmetologist certified by Tennessee Tech, and a Reflexologist certified by Nashville Academy of Reflexology. She is also the founder and spirit guide behind Brooklyn Heights Community Gardens (BHCM) in the historically black and low-income neighborhood of the same name near downtown Nashville.
Ms. Pearl explains what led her to found BHCM and why the community garden is so important to her:
“I moved here with my daughters (and I) realized that the community didn’t exist. We were living in a community but the community: living, talking, bartering, being a part of each other’s lives – riding bicycles, jumping rope – that didn’t exist.”
Recalling her days living on a communal farm not far from Nashville, Ms. Pearl set out to make a change in her new community, a change that began at the ground level – through gardening.
“That’s how the idea of a garden came to me. (It was a) way to acknowledge that you’re here, I’m here…as a community. And you heal…on a cellular level,” she says before acknowledging the other side of that equation, “What (we) consume, the foods we consume, all of the chemicals, are actually reprogramming our bodies to deteriorate faster.”
It’s this simple belief that Ms. Pearl brings to Brooklyn Heights Community Garden. But it’s also so much more. BHCG offers outdoor yoga and school tutoring, they put on plays and provide opportunities on a need-to-have basis. It’s all about the people in the community. “Without the people, the garden would not exist anyway. So Brooklyn Heights Community Garden is open to any and everybody. You don’t even have to live here!” shares Ms. Pearl.
Just down Interstate 40 a few miles, is another type of community outreach, serving the greater Middle Tennessee area and the country as a whole.
Heniscity Farms, a lifelong passion project for owner and operator Cynthia Capers, offers farm-raised poultry and eggs.
A reformed “city girl” and research nurse in her life before the farm, Ms. Capers has a story to tell. Just a few minutes into our conversation, it’s easy to get the feeling that the life she has built is the life she always wanted. It was not obvious how her passion for chickens would manifest itself, but she knew there was something there from a very early age.
“Well, I’m originally from Chicago,” Ms. Capers starts, “I grew up in a pretty tough neighborhood where most people, a lot of people, don’t get out of that neighborhood.”
But school field trips at an early age would reveal her life’s calling. “What I remember (most) was the love of going to the zoo. And all I wanted to do at that time was to be on the farm side of the zoo. I didn’t really care about where the big animals were, I just wanted to be with the little bitty chicks,” she says, laughing before continuing, “All those years I sort of pined for a chick. When I would see chicks I (would) get this, like this quiet(ness) underneath my skin.”
Moving from the south side of Chicago to the Nashville area as a nurse with her two sons, Ms. Capers finally had the opportunity to explore that childhood obsession with baby chicks and all manner of grown chickens as well.
Ms. Capers speaks with a knowledge that lifelong farmers would recognize as she shares her thoughts on the role of African-Americans in sustainable farming and their relationship to the land: “We left where we belong, in that we may not have belonged to this country. But we belong on the land because we came from the land fundamentally. You know, we were land people.”
It’s not hard to see where Ms. Capers’ passion comes from. It’s also not hard to see that she comes by it honestly. Her connection is to the land, and the land provides for her and the people she loves.
She lowers her voice as if to make this final point, speaking directly from her heart, “Where I find the calm and the ability to have some catharsis and to become outside of all the drama is on the land.”