Elementary Farming

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With one tractor and two acres of land, the Rev. Thomas Henderson is cultivating a fresh food pipeline to Nashville’s low-income neighborhoods. Using church volunteers and inner-city youth, the pastor has turned some prime Tennessee creek bottom into an oasis of reconciliation and growth.

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The Rev. Thomas Henderson can dig up a sermon, even in dirt.

The Rev. Thomas Henderson / Executive Director, Camp Dogwood: “You get to see the fruits of your labor. That’s a faith issue.”

It’s a lesson this United Methodist minister wants to pass on, introducing urban dwellers to the land and each other.

The Rev. Thomas Henderson: “What we’re seeking to do is bring diverse people together because the soil is a great equalizer.”

Kara Oliver: “You know what you’re doing, so I should follow you.”

For many of these city slickers, Camp Dogwood is their first commune with nature.

Kara Oliver /Youth Pastor, Belmont United Methodist Church: “I’m a city girl and I never think about where they come from or how hard and prickly and sweaty the work is to get it there.”

Produce harvested from this Tennessee farm is donated to churches in low-income areas. The goal is to get fresh fruits and vegetables to people who need them the most.

The Rev. Thomas Henderson: “We’re seeking to set up markets in underserved communities where there are no grocery stores and where food access is an issue.”

Participants soon discover the true meaning of “you reap what you sow.”

Young girl drops watermelon: “Oops.”

Reginald Holmes / 4th grader: “The hardest part was being out in the hot sun.”

Braij Stephen / 3rd grader: “And you got to get up early in the morning.”

Robert Holmes / 5th grader: “And I’m not a morning person.”

Braij Stephen: “Bugs be getting on your leg.”

Robert Holmes: “It’s hard work.”

Hard work does have it rewards.

Henderson with group eating watermelon: “Thank you, Lord, for the wet summer.”

Henderson didn’t convert anyone into farmers; he just hopes they’ll think twice about their next meal.

The Rev. Thomas Henderson: “I hope that when they leave here, they’ll have an appreciation the next time they sit and eat a meal at the sweat of the farmer who produced the food for them.”


More than 40 tons of tomatoes, squash, potatoes and cucumbers have been harvested this year. Henderson says as Camp Dogwood becomes more self-sufficient, they’ll start processing tomatoes into salsa next year.