CAC Beardsley Community Farm in its 20th Year of Addressing Food Insecurity

Tucked away inside Malcolm-Martin Park on Reynolds Street is a sprawling 4-acre farm that grows more than 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables. Run by a small staff, a handful of AmeriCorps members and a steady rotation of 2,000 volunteers, CAC Beardsley Community Farm donates more than 10,000 pounds of food per year to area relief kitchens and pantries, such as Global Seed, Knox Area Rescue Ministries and Mobile Meals.

The farm was established in 1998 to address hunger relief in the immediate surrounding neighborhoods. Identified as a food desert, meaning there was no fresh produce within a 1-mile walking distance, Beardsley began as a community garden space to feed the residents of Mechanicsville and teach them how to grow fresh produce. Twenty years later, the land has been cultivated to its highest potential through sustainable, organic efforts, such as composting, rainwater harvesting and a widespread drip irrigation system.   

“When we opened, we grew in baby pools because the soil was so bad, but after 20 years of composting we can plant directly in the ground,” says farm manager Charlotte Rodina.

Charlotte came to Beardsley 2 1/2 years ago by way of AmeriCorps and wears multiple hats on the property—planter, picker, educator—she’s all in.

“Production is a big part of what we do, but we also do education,” she says. “We have a lot of field trips, school groups, volunteer groups and a summer camp in June. We teach nutrition and how to grow food at Head Start, Wesley House and local schools. A lot of kids don’t know where their food comes from, and they don’t spend a lot of time outside.”

For those interested in doing their own gardening, Beardsley provides plenty of community space. People can sign up at the beginning of the season, plant what they like and use the farm’s water. It’s an ideal situation for someone who doesn’t have garden space at home but wants to give it a try.

“We also have a work-share program where people can sign up and work four hours a week and go home with a box of produce. People have access to a larger selection of produce beyond what they can grow at home,” Charlotte says.

In addition to growing in acreage, Beardsley has grown in impact. Two years ago they worked in cooperation with architecture students from the University of Tennessee, Elizabeth Eason Architecture and the City of Knoxville to build an educational center on the property. Sustainably built, the space provides restrooms, a small office and two educational spaces for groups. Prior to having the educational center, staff and volunteers used a portable toilet on the property, so having proper restrooms was an immediate luxury.

In recent years the farm added a flock of hens, named after presidential wives and mistresses, as well as two beehives. Beardsley donates a dozen eggs a week to smaller sites, and raw honey is harvested each September. The honey is sold first come, first serve, and fancy advertising is unnecessary. They send the word out on Facebook, and the honey is gone in a matter of weeks.

Other than honey, the only fundraisers Beardsley holds is three farm-to-table dinners hosted by area restaurants and venues who support the mission: The Plaid Apron, Mill & Mine and Olibea. The next event is scheduled for Nov. 5 at The Plaid Apron.

1741 Reynolds St., Knoxville, Tennessee, 865.546.8446, BeardsleyFarm.org