NOTE: This feature may be used as a sidebar to UMNS story #342. Photographs are available.
A UMNS and UMC.org Feature
By Ray Waddle*
Rev. Thomas Henderson prepares a plot of ground for planting at Camp
Dogwood near Ashland City, Tenn. Henderson, a United Methodist minister
who is executive director of Camp Dogwood, says produce raised at the
United Methodist camp this summer - as much as 40 tons - will be brought
to town and sold at makeshift farmers’ markets at two local churches. A
UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. Photo number 03-228, Accompanies UMNS #343,
No Long Caption Available for this Story
Susan Polk weeds a row of yellow squash at Camp Dogwood near Ashland
City, Tenn. Produce raised at the United Methodist camp this summer - as
much as 40 tons - will be brought to town and sold at makeshift
farmers’ markets at two local churches. Polk is a student at Warren
Wilson College in Asheville, N.C., which encourages a program of
community service for its students. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. Photo
number 03-227, Accompanies UMNS #343, 7/1/03
No Long Caption Available for this Story
The soil at Camp Dogwood is blooming again with
fresh vegetables and new hope - the hope of becoming a national model of
hunger relief, agricultural renewal and community uplift.
Dogwood, a historic rural tract of 250 acres near Nashville, Tenn., is
being worked into farmland that will serve as a fresh-food supply link
to low-income urban neighborhoods - and a business opportunity to
Produce raised there this summer - as much as 40 tons
- will be brought to town and sold at makeshift farmers' markets at two
United Methodist churches.
The aim is to revive neighborhood
economies that lack grocery stores and vital businesses by linking
unused farmland and urban need.
"We're on our way: We have 1,500
tomato plants in the ground, 3,000 feet of potatoes, 100 hills of
squash, 600 feet of cucumbers," says the Rev. Thomas Henderson, the
United Methodist minister who is executive director of Camp Dogwood.
we have markets set up for underserved communities that don't have
access to fresh produce. The church is in a position to step forward to
lift up those local economies."
Dogwood is seen as a piece in the
bigger picture of food sustainability - that is, the promotion of local
agriculture, community gardens and small-scale farmers' markets to
generate local farm productivity and reliable neighborhood access to
The camp hopes to yield other fruit: Release
the entrepreneurial business spirit in young people. Organizers plan to
expose inner-city youngsters to the land, teach them to raise crops
there, and price and sell the produce at markets in town.
Dogwood is owned by the Women's Division of the United Methodist Church
and run by Bethlehem Centers of Nashville. Young people who use the
Bethlehem community center will visit Dogwood later this summer with the
aim of building new relationships between land and people.
property already has a historic place in modern Methodism. Dogwood, with
roots going back to the late 1920s, was the first location in Middle
Tennessee for African-American youngsters to attend camp.
the last 20 years, circumstances and lack of funding led to neglect of
the grounds. Then a couple of years ago, Henderson, based in South
Carolina at the time, was invited to revitalize Dogwood and refine its
mission: Open the camp up again to young people and add an agricultural
dimension to help urban neighborhoods.
"I stepped onto (the)
grounds and got a look at all that prime bottom land, and within two
minutes, I said, 'Yes,'" says Henderson, who has a farming background
and has been agricultural consultant for the United Methodist Board of
Establishing farm production and
rehabilitating Dogwood as a youth camp will take money, and one of
Henderson's job is fundraising. Next year's goal is to raise $120,000 or
more for renovations and for hiring a farm manager. For now, one acre
at Dogwood is in food production, and that could soon grow to seven.
says churches all over the country could take a Dogwood approach - put a
little land into productivity (even on church property), create
farmers' markets and, beyond that, promote new small businesses in
depressed neighborhoods by serving as a base for direct marketing.
church is full of volunteers and business people who could help," he
says. "I think the potential for Methodist properties is unlimited."
church volunteers from suburban Nashville were getting their hands
dirty at Dogwood in May, cultivating the first acre of produce and
spiritually reconnecting with the land.
"It's hard work, but
we're having a grand time," says Adrienne Ames, a United Methodist
laywoman and hospital administration consultant. "It's exciting to see
Dogwood come alive again."
To learn more about Camp Dogwood, call Joyce Searcy at Bethlehem Centers of Nashville, (615) 329-3386.
# # #
*Waddle, former religion editor at The Tennessean newspaper, is a writer and lecturer in Nashville, Tenn.