UTIA’s AG U Program Receives Grant Funding

Share on

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – University of Tennessee Gardens education and horticultural therapy program administrator Derrick Stowell has received a Division of Diversity and Engagement Sponsorship Grant to benefit the AG U program. The initiative uses horticulture education to widen access to careers in agriculture while developing the individual strengths of participants. The funds will be used to increase access to gardening in urban settings, with a particular focus on engaging minority communities. Internally awarded through the UT Office of Community Engagement and Outreach, the gift supports the university’s public engagement and outreach mission.

“In AG U, we teach skills applicable to home or community gardens, currently for two groups, Tennessee School for the Deaf Comprehensive Adult Program (CAP) and Emerald Youth Foundation’s afterschool program at Laurel Church of Christ,” says Stowell. “These funds will purchase materials for both. So, we are very appreciative of this grant.”

CAP instructs deaf people who have a disability and relies heavily on community-based instruction. CAP’s mission is to create opportunities for students to enter wider society while providing a support system.

“Those with disabilities are often overlooked for employment, underpaid when working and generally more vulnerable to poverty,” explains Stowell. “In my programming, I cultivate strengths that might assist students in finding gainful employment and encourage them while conquering everyday challenges.” 

Theron Strickland, a CAP educator, speaks to matching AG U curriculum with the life goals of his students. “As a result of this partnership, our participants have been exposed to careers in the agriculture field that they would have not otherwise considered. Research has shown that the strongest indicators of post-secondary success for individuals with disabilities are early opportunities for paid employment. Our CAP participants appreciate the opportunity to cultivate their knowledge of gardening through authentic activities.”

Emerald Youth Foundation’s afterschool program at Laurel Church of Christ assists families living in Knoxville’s Marble City community. Jamie McBrien, a senior majoring in plant sciences with a concentration in horticulture science and production, encouraged Stowell to connect with Emerald Youth Foundation. 

“My goal through AG U is to teach students about growing plants and how that relates to nutrition and overall health,” says McBrien. “I hope they incorporate this knowledge in their personal lives, and maybe will be inspired professionally to one day join the agriculture sector. It is important to have diverse voices in industries related to plant sciences to confront issues such as food deserts and gentrification.”

“Teachers must first learn from students,” adds Stowell. “It really is about meeting participants where they are and trying to understand how they interact with the curriculum from their perspective.” 

A child with Power T face mask holds a carrot proudly that he picked from Marble City Community Garden
AG U generates interest in food production among youth. Photo courtesy of Marble City Community Garden.

Laurel Church of Christ ministry director Matt Deen has been the driving force behind the Marble City Community Garden at which AG U conducts Emerald Youth Foundation programs. 

“Many of the residents of Marble City are immigrants who, before they came to the United States, lived in rural areas,” Deen says. “They are used to growing their own food but do not now have the resources. When people lose their food, they lose their culture. So, we are blending the tradition of Appalachian farming and international practices, and we are all growing together.” 

Deen continues, “Although I cannot predict if any of the students will develop careers in agriculture, I do know there is an interest in gardening. I believe they will pass this knowledge down to their children and a tradition of self-reliance will not be lost.” 

Follow @UTPlantSciences on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube for posts about departmental news. 

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


Jake Nelson

Department of Plant Sciences


Derrick Stowell