CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – On a hot morning in July, a group of local teenagers gathered in a massive garden off Pickens Road to get their hands dirty. They came to pull weeds and water plants, and after several hours in the hot sun, they left with several bushels of fresh vegetables.
“It was great having those kids out here,” Dr. Donald Sudbrink, chair of the Austin Peay State University Department of Agriculture, said. “They were so enthusiastic about learning and working in our APSU Victory garden.”
But the students weren’t there just to work. They were all members of Mission Clarksville, a local youth development organization, and they visited the APSU Environmental Education Center, also known as the APSU Farm, regularly this summer to help maintain the garden and grow fresh, organic produce for places like Loaves and Fishes, the Salvation Army and Manna Café Ministries.
“They get to take the stuff they’ve grown and take it to hunger relief organizations and prepare it and serve it and see how some of their hard work is going to affect people in the community,” Michael Hampton, the director of Mission Clarksville, said.
Mission Clarksville was founded in 2008 as a way of bringing area high school students together from different backgrounds, races and socioeconomic levels and teaching them to work together to grow food using sustainable agriculture practices. It maintains a garden in Sango, but Hampton, a 2009 APSU agriculture graduate, wanted to expose his group to other farming and sustainability practices.
“A lot of the students that went through our program, they are still in high school,” he said. “They didn’t know Austin Peay had a farm.”
The 440-acre APSU farm, donated in the 1950s by the Pettus Foundation, serves as an elaborate agricultural and scientific field lab for the University. Students and community members frequently visit the site to study livestock, crop production, wildlife and forestry methods, in addition to astronomy and renewable energy.
“They got to come on site and see some different farming methods and see how (the University) is using renewable energy sources out there with the wind turbine and the solar array,” Hampton said.
Since 2009, two solar arrays have been installed at the farm, using grant money provided by the Student Sustainability Fee committee. The arrays, which have 12 solar panels each, convert energy from the sun into electricity to power a nearby classroom/lab on the site. Each semester, students from APSU’s Chemical Engineering Technology program learn about solar energy production by studying the solar panels and equipment at the EEC farm.
In 2010, APSU put up a wind turbine at the site as another means of generating green power. That project was also paid for with a Student Sustainability Fee committee grant. All APSU students pay the fee as part of their tuition, with the money going to campus projects that encourage clean and renewable energy practices.
The Mission Clarksville students visited the farm every Wednesday morning in June and July and talked with college students and professors about the farm and the different agricultural strategies used there. Then they went to work, weeding and watering the garden and setting out straw around plants as a means of organic weed control.
“Mission Clarksville’s assistance in the garden during the busiest part of the growing season was pivotal to the overall success of the garden,” Josh Rice, an APSU student and summer intern at the farm, said. “Harvests have included, to date, tomatoes, blue corn, okra, squash, pink eye purple hull peas, cantaloupes, cucumbers, bell peppers, cayenne peppers and banana peppers. Harvests will continue throughout the remainder of the growing season and all produce has been delivered to Mission Clarksville to be used to feed the hungry.”
For more information on the APSU farm, contact Sudbrink at 221-7266.