Y raises produce, good health in Community Giving Garden

Kelly NorrellFarragut

The Davis Family Y in Farragut is all about swimming, gym sports, volunteering — and an explosion of fresh produce.

The Y’s Community Giving Garden is finishing its summer harvest — including lettuce, tomatoes and peppers —and now has its fall planting underway. Run by Ellen Morar, YMCA gardening director, it is one of three robust YMCA urban community gardens in Knoxville.


It’s hard to say who benefits from the Davis Community Giving Garden most.

Farragut adults and children are learning progressive techniques, such hydroponic, aquaponic and rich soil-based gardening. Youngsters in Y childcare enjoy delicious garden-grown snacks like zucchini pizzas. Knoxville food pantries like the FISH Hospitality Pantries, Manna House and Faith Lutheran Food Pantry receive produce for distribution.

Share the spare

YMCAs accept home gardeners’ excess produce to deliver to local food pantries in the “Share the Spare” program.

In 2016, the combined YMCA gardens delivered about 5,300 pounds of produce to area food pantries. The three Community Giving Garden sites (which include the Downtown and Cansler Ys) also accept donations from home gardeners for food pantries through a “Share the Spare” program.

The Davis Family Y also offers free, monthly gardening classes that are open to the public. Master Gardeners Marsha Lehman and Stephanie Sayres will speak on “Composting: Turn Those Falling Leaves into Gold” at 1 p.m. Monday, Oct. 16.

“Adults and children as young as 5 work in the garden. Kids feed the chickens and help in the garden. And you don’t have to be a member to volunteer,” said Morar.

Sparked by the chilling fact that one third of East Tennessee children grow up in homes without enough food, the Davis Family Y launched the first Community Giving Garden in spring of 2012 with a Walmart grant for $1,000. That garden consisted of three raised beds and a greenhouse to grow food that children like — broccoli to dip in ranch dressing, cucumber slices to spread with hummus, and kale to spin into smoothies.

The garden has expanded in scope and reach. Today, it has three hydroponic gardens. One is a gutter-like bed that raises lettuce in a shallow layer of water; one is a top-watered garden that grows crops like kale, collards, mustard, beans and cucumbers, and the third is a bucket system that uses recirculated water for vine crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, squashes and broccoli.

The aquaponic garden uses water drawn from a tank containing fish. It raises herbs, greens, tomatoes and peppers fertilized by the fish waste.

The soil-based beds grow spring crops like tomatoes, peppers, peas, beans, okra, zucchini and squash. The fall planting includes onion, carrots, beets, turnips, broccoli, cabbage, kale and collards.

The Community Giving Garden also uses organic growing techniques like pollinator gardens with plants that attract flying insects like butterflies, bees and wasps, and companion planting. “A lot of herbs are good companion plants, like basil, oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary. The scented ones repel pests,” Morar said.

The gardens even use alternatives to weed killers like Round-up. “There are some organic weed killers, but we try not to spray. If you spray and kill bad bugs, you also kill the good ones,” she said.

Info: Davis Y or 865-777-9622.

Checking for squash bug eggs are Ellie Gleason, Lillian Schneider and Ava Gleason.

Evan Snyder

Evan Snyder, 4, samples a fresh pepper.

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