UT-TSU Extension Benton County Partners With Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee on Project Grow

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New Initiative Provides Fresh Produce to Fight Food Insecurity

CAMDEN, Tenn. — University of Tennessee Extension specialists at UT-TSU Extension Benton County have partnered with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee’s Ray Smith Family Distribution Center to launch Project Grow, a farming and gardening initiative that provides fresh produce for members of the community experiencing food insecurity.

Project Grow utilizes numerous gardens, ADA-accessible raised farming beds and row crop fields to serve as a long-term food source. Extension specialists from UT-TSU Extension Benton County served as consultants for the initiative – assisting with logistics, designing production areas and even educating personnel at Second Harvest on how to grow and maintain plants. The project is currently near the end of year one of its two-year launch phase and has provided nearly 2,000 of pounds of food to 14 counties across West and Middle Tennessee.

Donna Vick, donor relationships manager at Second Harvest, says “Project Grow has already impacted numerous members of the community thanks to the widespread success during our first year. The gardens have produced countless pounds of food that would not have been available otherwise, benefiting local families and residents in ways we never thought possible. Thanks to our partnership with UT Extension and with local community members, there is no telling what the future holds.”

The Ray Smith Family Distribution Center opened in 2018 after receiving a 23-acre donation from the Benton County Commission. Only four acres were needed for the distribution center, so Project Grow was created to maximize the remaining land. The project required extensive coordination and assistance from local UT Extension agents to help create the 12-row crop acres of corn and various garden plots of tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, peas, okra, herbs and much more.

Justin Hargrove, Extension agent at UT-TSU Extension Benton County, says he was honored to work on Project Grow and that he is excited to see how it will benefit others across the region. “There is no telling how many people will be fed through this initiative. Not only does it provide healthy food, but it also allows a place for local schools and community members to get hands-on experience in gardening, plant care and row crop production. Project Grow is one of a kind, teaching people about where their food comes from while also directly benefitting those who might need a helping hand.”

Future collaboration with UT-TSU Extension Benton County includes improving food production through the creation of additional gardens, developing new partnerships with local farmers and agricultural representatives and even participating in Extension education and nutrition outreach programs. Project Grow was also made possible thanks to contributions from local Future Farmer of America chapters, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, GreenPoint Ag and countless volunteers who came together to make the project a reality.

To learn more about volunteering with Project Grow and with Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, visit secondharvestmidtn.org, contact Donna Vick at donna.vick@secondharvestmidtn.org or call 731-213-5203.

For more than 40 years, Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee has followed its mission to provide food to people facing hunger and work to advance hunger solutions. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Second Harvest distributes food and other products to approximately 420 nonprofit partner agencies in 46 counties in Middle and West Tennessee. Their partners include food pantries, congregate meal sites, shelters, childcare facilities, senior centers, group homes and youth enrichment programs. For more information about Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, its mission and programs, please visit secondharvestmidtn.org.

Through its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. utia.tennessee.edu.

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