Feeding Happy Holler

Catholic Charities of East Tennessee’s community garden yields vegetables for North Knoxville residents

By Emily Booker

If you build it, they will eat.

That’s the hope for Lisa Healy, executive director of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, as she looks out at the newly planted community garden at the CCETN administrative office in Knoxville.

The community garden was installed earlier this summer by the St. Vincent de Paul Society conference of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus with the goal of providing free, accessible produce to members of the Happy Holler neighborhood in North Knoxville.

The St. Vincent de Paul conference received help from the Pope Francis Charitable Trust Fund, Mayo Garden Center, Sherwin-Williams, Lowe’s, and Tractor Supply Co. in Knoxville and Maryville in obtaining materials for a vegetable garden.

The urban garden behind Catholic Charities of East Tennessee’s offices is yielding vegetables and fruit for residents in the North Knoxville community.

The conference members contributed labor and love. And after a day in the heat moving mulch, placing bins, and planting vegetables, they sprinkled holy water and holy salt around the garden space. Father John Dowling, then-pastor of Holy Ghost Church, later blessed the garden.

“Our mission with St. Vincent de Paul is to take care of the poor, to be able to give them a hand up, not necessarily a hand out, and there’s no better community,” said Sean Healy, who helped spearhead the project.

“This is a really nice community, the exposure with Catholic Charities as well as the Pregnancy Center here, and of course, Holy Ghost Church is right next door. It should be a real good opportunity for the homeless or the transients that are moving around,” he added.

The garden includes six large bins where tomatoes, squash, zucchini, peppers, cantaloupes, and herbs have been planted. The St. Vincent de Paul members plan to rotate out crops so there is something available in the garden all year long.

Some members of the community have already expressed interest in helping maintain the garden.

A grand-opening cookout for the garden was held July 19, and

St. Vincent de Paul members cooked hot dogs for anyone in the neighborhood who came by. Of course, fresh produce straight from the garden was available, too.

Mrs. Healy opened the event by thanking “all our friends in the blue shirts, St. Vincent de Paul, who made this possible. They came in and put this beautiful garden in, and it’s just bountiful at producing wonderful fruit, just like our mission to be God’s grace is bountiful in the community and produces great fruit in our works. Enjoy!”

Residents from Samaritan Place and Horizon House, both operated by Catholic Charities in Knoxville, also attended the opening cookout.

Dr. Bob Capps, president of the St. Vincent de Paul conference at Sacred Heart Cathedral, was pleased by the turnout at the grand opening and is hopeful that the garden will bless the community for a long time.

“We had a wonderful turnout of neighbors around the Catholic Charities building, and it was just a joyful gathering. We cooked, we ate from our garden, and it was a wonderful sharing of our community. And we hope this is just the beginning of a building of community spirit here,” he said.

While the garden is already serving the community as intended, St. Vincent de Paul is not done. Along with making sure there are seasonally appropriate foods available all year, members want the garden to serve a spiritual need as well.

“We really want it to become an area that they can come, not only to gather food but to pray or just have some spiritual time alone or meditate on things,” Mr. Healy said.

In the fall, they plan to install Stations of the Cross along the 14 fence posts beside the garden, an atrium to provide some shade, and a small, free library of children’s books for children in the community to share in.

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