2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Demonstration — 1st Place Winner

Executive Residence of Tennessee Master Gardeners

When Crissy Haslam, the First Lady of Tennessee, decided to restore the grounds of the historic Governor’s Mansion, she raised the funds privately, and began a complete renovation.  Part of this project was to include a kitchen garden, and she asked a team of Master Gardeners to help. When she first met with us, she asked that the garden include heirlooms from 1929, when the house was built.  She wanted to provide fresh, local, organic vegetables for the Residence and its many guests to emphasize Tennessee products and healthy eating.  However, because of her commitment to children’s education, she wanted the MG’s to provide much more from this garden than vegetables.

The garden & its results

Our planting goal was to create a productive and sustainable three-season garden with our approximately 3000 square feet of never-before planted beds. We chose Tennessee heirlooms, plants adapted to our southern climate, things children could relate to and vegetables the chef wanted to serve at the Governor’s table.

We used only an organic product (spinosad, a BT product) for insect control; no other pesticides are used.  In Tennessee, we can have three growing seasons and in 2014, we harvested 2,600 pounds of vegetables.

Educational goals and results

The First Lady wanted us to provide a hands-on learning experience for children.  Our goals were to teach children where their food comes from, to encourage gardening, and to encourage healthy eating.  Over 500 children visited the garden this past year.  We have a hands-on garden activity for each group, decided by what is going on in the garden. In season, they have planted seeds, set out cabbage and herb plants, thinned carrots, pulled radishes, and have even shelled field peas.  The visits end with the chef serving them a healthy snack made with the vegetables from the garden.

Teacher’s Workshop

Many visiting teachers and chaperones spoke of wanting vegetable gardens at their own schools, so we decided to help. With the First Lady’s approval, we planned our first Saturday workshop for teachers & school advisors who wanted to start a garden for their own school.  We limited this first workshop to 44 attendees.  Some of the sessions were Garden Planning, Grant Writing and Resources (Tennessee Farm Bureau, who has grant money available had a representative on-site with applications), School Curriculum in a Garden, and several other topics.  We finished with lunch, which, of course, featured vegetables from the garden.

This year, with the new greenhouse finished, we have even more options for working with the children at all times of the year, and we think we can handle even more teachers at this year’s workshop.