As you approach the “Farm” at New Hope Christian Academy in Frayser, you might think the name is ambitious. A whole dang farm? Right next to a school? In the middle of a neighborhood? Nah.
Turns out, farm may not be a big enough word for this spot. It sits on barely an acre, but this is a garden-classroom-wonderland that produces fruit and vegetables, flowers, and magic for the children at New Hope (not to mention the high school interns who spend their summers there).
This donor-supported farm is an incredible place to visit, with huge bald cypress trees, berry bushes and vines, a tunnel of gourds to walk through, a “jungle” of banana plants (see pic at right—imagine a Kindergartener in that spot!), and a garden in the shape of Tennessee, showcasing native and farmed plants as they occur across the state. David Vaughan, New Hope Urban Farm Coordinator, focuses on growing things students might not otherwise experience: there are muscadine and passion fruit vines, and Asian persimmons, to name just a few of less common fruits that students are encouraged to taste. There’s also a sensory garden, where experiences include smelling and tasting herbs, and watching and touching the sensitive plant, which folds and droops its leaves with when touched.
The Urban Farm at New Hope clearly plays a central role in the education of New Hope students—but for the last few years, it has also been a source of produce for families and neighbors of the school, as they have visited a “pay what you can” stand on Fridays during produce season to receive fruit, veggies, and flowers. As the pandemic sent students home this year, Vaughan continued to tend the garden and harvest the produce. Soon, his team of summer interns joined him, several of whom have worked multiple years in the garden. Together, this knowledgeable team continued to bring in the harvest and share it.
Darius Brown, pictured at right, is a senior at MUS who has worked in the garden for four summers and is an expert in the plants that attract pollinators, while other students focus on berries, herbs, and the many, many, myriad tasks that make a beautiful and productive garden. All the interns are New Hope graduates who are now in high school (the school is preK-6th grade), but still return to the garden they love for a great job and an incredible learning experience. This season they’ve followed social distancing norms and masked up appropriately, making sure that the garden was tended and the food harvested, despite the challenges.
Meanwhile, across town, a Hutchinson student was experiencing her own pandemic pivot. Caroline Halliday knew about the garden at New Hope and had a vision for a garden-focused capstone project for her social sciences/history concentration. She had planned a produce subscription service (often called a CSA, for community supported agriculture) for Hutchison families, filled with produce from the Hutchison garden. Hutchison families would pay a fee, but would also have an option to “pay it forward” to give a subscription to a family in Frayser.
The pandemic pushed Caroline to improvise, deepening the partnership with New Hope’s Farm. Together, the two schools began to combine their harvests to create larger bags of produce for New Hope and Frayser families. No fees were charged, and families could sign up and pick their bags up on a rotating basis, in order to serve as many as possible.
Starting in late spring and working throughout the summer, Caroline and her classmate Grace Adams worked with Mary Riddle, Director of Environmental Education and Sustainability at Hutchison, to plant, grow, and harvest at the Hutchinson garden—without the army of classmates who had been sent home due to the pandemic.
So just as the pandemic forced many families to make do with less, the New Hope and Hutchinson farms created a productive partnership that resulted in a perfectly timed harvest for families in Frayser. The partnership is continuing through the fall, as the gardens continue to grow, and berries have made way for butternut squash—with greens up next.
The New Hope garden is a picture of efficiency, but planting, watering, and paid internships come at a cost, and this private school is a unique model, allowing families to pay on a sliding scale, with 87% of tuition covered by donations. Donations are essential to the New Hope Farm, keeping it the thriving place it is for the community, for the students as they’re able to return, and for the interns who receive a wage and wealth of knowledge and experience.
Right now, they’re raising funds for the Farm, and you can support them here.