By Betsy Thorpe
A community garden or farm is a plot of land tended by a group of people to ensure food security for their community by producing nutritious and healthy food. Through social interaction they often improve individual quality of life by providing a gathering place for members of the community. The surplus of their harvest creates income opportunities for the group and encourages the community’s economic development.
Near the end of the last ice age, Nashville’s earliest communities were established near the Cumberland River and along the banks of Richland Creek. Today, the stream terraces overlooking Richland Creek are part of modern day West Nashville. However, long before the first European settlers ever set foot in Tennessee, this area was home to various organized, communal, agricultural societies. Throughout the centuries these early inhabitants built roads, engaged in commerce, and cultivated corn and beans. By the time Spanish explorers arrived in Middle Tennessee, the last of the great native societies, the Mississippian Mound Builders had mysteriously disappeared from the towns and villages that once thrived along the banks of Richland Creek.
In 1779, after selecting the location for the future Fort Nashborough, Nashville’s founding father James Robertson followed the Cumberland River to the mouth of a creek that he later named Richland. While exploring the banks alongside the creek he discovered fields of wild corn growing, a living reminder of the vibrant native societies that once populated the area.
In the spring following the construction of Fort Nashborough, James Robertson sowed corn in the fertile soil near Richland Creek. In the fall he shared the bounty of his harvest with the two hundred settlers living inside the fort.
In 1784 James Robertson moved his extended family to Robertson Station. The enclosure, situated near the mouth of Richland Creek included several acres set aside for farming.
For more than a hundred years West Nashville remained an agricultural community. During prohibition, a large quantity of whiskey was distilled and sold by local bootleggers who benefited from the area’s ample supply of corn.
Today the West Nashville Community Farm, located on land first cultivated by the region’s earliest inhabitants, and growing in soil once tended by Nashville’s founding father, restores the tract’s historic tradition of supplying food to the local community. The farm is operated by Nashville Urban Harvest, a group that envisions a food secure society where all people have access to fresh, healthy, and locally grown foods. Shares in the farms seasonal harvest are available for purchase, limited shares are also available to volunteers who donate labor to the farm.
For more information on the West Nashville Community Farm and Nashville Urban Harvest visit nashvilleurbanharvest.org