Last month I received a phone call from a friend in Nashville who I worked with when I lived there in 1991. His name is Sizwe Herring.

Sizwe — which means “land and nation” in Zulu —  is the visionary director of the George W. Carver Food Park. For two decades, the park has served as a community demonstration site for composting and gardening in Nashville’s inner-city neighborhoods. The park is located on state-managed public land adjacent to an interstate that runs through the city.

A Nashville TV station recorded a great story on the park last spring. It is definitely worth watching, if you can open the link. I was especially moved by the gentle words of Mr. John W. Ewing, a 94-year-young volunteer at the park who credits that work with his longevity.

It’s sobering to watch the same news channel’s story on the park this year. Several weeks before Earth Day, the new state administration ordered that structures at the park be destroyed based on complaints from some adjacent property owners. The act of brute force was a shock to Sizwe and his co-workers, who had been working to bring the site up to code and understood they had a timeline of several weeks.

After twenty years of operation, Sizwe received a written notice from the state that all gardening-related buildings (including a greenhouse and toolbank) and compost material be immediately removed from the premises. A letter from Sizwe’s attorney requested two weeks extension of that government notice so that its impact on the garden’s operations could be fully understood. The subsequent destruction showed this attempt to communicate was either dismissed or ignored.

Many people who read this post probably won’t have much interest in news about a community garden in Nashville. Yet for me, as someone involved at the garden’s beginning, the issue offers a microcosm of what is happening in our country. We’ve become so quick to discount public endeavors at the urging of private interests. So quick to bulldoze public discourse under the heavy machinery of political partisanship and culture wars.

God help us fertilize common ground with words. I was compelled to weigh in with a column, which was published in Tennessean. Hopefully this post will provide some context for other observers.

More information on George W. Carver Food Park can be found at

Cross-posted at


Watt Childress

Watt Childress