What in the world are us Bells-Benders (that sounds like an undiscovered species of newt, doesn’t it?) doing, now that, along with Maytown, council meetings, letters, phone-call marathons and policy papers are—at least temporarily-- a thing of the past? Lying on our laurels like lizards in the sun? Attractive though that sounds, no. The Bend is a busy place these days.
The biggest thing going on is the glimmer of a start of a beginning of a return to farming in the Bend. We’ve always had cows, sodfarms, big turnip fields, and several dozen of the best-looking backyard gardens in Nashville, but seventy years ago there were 8 dairy farms out here, sorghum, and a wide variety of other crops. This year two young men, raised in Scottsboro, are back after college to start new farms.
It’s hard to preserve a cynical newsblogger face about this: I come home every day to a lush truck farm in our front pasture with young folks all sweaty and laughing out there, picking cukes (we have slicers and picklers), squash, and celery. We cook dinner—maybe our own potatoes, roasted and tossed in our own garlic—well, the garlic really comes from Millwant’s farm up the road—and mint, our own basil for pesto, our own squash in someone’s grandmother’s casserole recipe, and our own tomato-cucumber salad.
Usually there are ten to fifteen around the table in our backyard pavilion, known as the Church of Outdoor Dining, including Dan and Evan (Chicago), Montana (that’s really her name, and she’s from Pennsylvania), the Lauras (Reston, Virginia), Nate (Minnesota), Buddy (Oak Ridge), and Nashville’s own Sabina, Amelia, Ian, Sule, and more.
These young folks are here to learn something about farming at Bells Bend Neighborhood Farms, a cooperative project involving, so far, four landowners and advice, assistance and counsel from many more, with EricTheFarmer managing and coordinating the troops.
More than thirty families so far have bought farm shares, and collect their baskets of produce each week. Yesterday’s pickup at Sulphur Creek Farm featured a beautiful display—two kinds of potatoes, cukes, squash (pattypans, yellow, and zucchini), chard, beets (have you priced fresh beets lately?), green onions, garlic, sage, basil, rosemary, parsley, plus Julia’s eggs and DiAnne’s spunky zinnia bouquets. (There’s iced mint tea and chairs in the shade, too.)
We’ve just started selling at the farmers markets downtown and in East Nashville, and started a weekly food giveaway at a church on Jefferson Street. Bushels of squash have gone to Second Harvest, and some of our workers are cooking for Food Not Bombs, which feeds people downtown every Sunday. EricTheFarmer calculates that so far we have harvested and eaten, sold, or given away more than 2000 pounds of squash alone!
Dennis, from up on Bull Run Road, has two hives of bees on our front lawn, so eventually we’ll have honey, too. And we’ve delivered two trailerloads of bamboo forage to the elephants at the zoo.
Last night the Community Club—one of the few remaining in the county—fed our volunteers dinner, and other neighbors are pitching in with food and beds. The Community Club, by the way, has scheduled its legendary fall barbecue for September 5. Mark your calendars. Come early, and pull barbecue, or late, and wash pots and pans.
We’ve had workshops on bamboo, biodynamic gardening, and one coming up on fermentation. (Don’t call the revenuers—think sauerkraut, not hooch.) We’re talking about doing some canning and pickling—Miss Nancy left her squash pickle recipe on my kitchen counter last week. (Never one to take undeserved credit, Miss Nancy says it’s really Emma Byrd’s recipe, and carefully noted that fact on my hand-written copy.) This heavenly combo is the about the only thing—other than caramel cakes from one of Tom’s patients—that our family actually begs for, otherwise keeping to the better manners of silent hope with regards to gifts of food.
A couple of weeks ago I remarked to Jeff Poppen, the Barefoot Farmer and our gardening consultant, that George’s Bells Bend potatoes were a surprise, crisp and crunchy like good apples. He just laughed, and said simply “Well, they’re alive, really alive”.
That’s just it. This place is alive, really alive. Our baby girl, home from college, looked around and said “I see you’re suffering from overfull-nest syndrome!” . But it’s not just us. This is a neighborhood vibrant with particular knowledge, about bees and barbecue and canning and computers and tractor repair. It’s not about nostalgia. It’s about what we need right now, in 2009, in a world roiling with war, starvation, unemployment, anger, and soundbite politics—independent hardworking people pitching in for the common good. Maybe that’s Bells Bend’s best crop, produced in selfish civic hard times—citizens.