Situated near the Memphis metropolis, the city of Germantown, Tenn., is making headlines for several different reasons in an effort to make the locale even more pleasing where leisure is concerned, thanks to the ever-ambitious and high-achieving parks and recreation department.
This year, for example, marks the 26th consecutive year that this community of over 40,000, located in Shelby County, has achieved the Tree City USA designation from the National Arbor Day Foundation program. Additionally, it has an even more prestigious achievement under his belt: It is accredited by the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies. It is also the only parks department in the state of Tennessee that is bestowed with that honor.
“We became accredited in 1996 as the 12th department in the nation to do so. Not only that, we have maintained our accreditation for a record fifth time in 2016,” Pam Beasley, CPRP, director of Germantown Parks and Recreation, said.
“This accreditation forces us to look at ourselves through someone else’s eyes, and we can then validate our strengths and get honest feedback on how to become even better.” She added, “Accreditation is based on an agency’s compliance with the 151 standards for national accreditation. The teamwork of four divisions continues to make our own leisure time successful: parks and recreation administration and planning; recreation and sports; the Farm Park; and rangers.”
Beasley honed in on one of the shining stars of her city’s program — the Bobby Lanier Farm Park, a 10-acre education and demonstration center for sustainable living through agriculture and stewardship. Bobby Lanier, 88, is a long-time Germantown resident and parks supporter who assisted the city in negotiating the farm property purchase.
“The city of Germantown Parks and Recreation Department has tapped into the local food movement by developing a working suburban farm that serves as an educational and demonstration site for sustainable living,” Beasley said, adding that the site comes complete with every vegetable that will grow in the mid-south, a variety of fruit trees and berries, chickens, a stable and several other unique places.
“Our summer farmer’s market has created a gathering place for the community, which also features live music, food trucks, community garden tours, cooking demonstrations and children’s activities. Market vendors are ‘producers only’ meaning that they must grow or make goods sold.”
As far as challenges when creating a successful farm park, Beasley said, “City and elected officials must understand the difference in operating a typical municipal park versus a working suburban farm; they must have ‘buy-in’ for and about the sustainable agricultural model.
“Also, there are some revenue opportunities at the farm, but the project will need financial support from the city and/or private sector, and finally, volunteers are critical in all aspects of the farm operations.” Asked how the Farm Park came into being, Beasley was quick to credit the proletariat movement.
“It was truly a grassroots effort with citizens, stakeholders and partners, along with city officials and staff, contributing to the creation of the comprehensive master plan for project several years ago,” she said.
“Many improvements have taken place at the Farm Park, including the construction of the Harvest Moon Pavilion with grant assistance from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Long-range strategic plans include the construction of a hoop house to extend the growing season and expand agricultural opportunities; continued practice of the Sustainable Sites Initiatives standards where appropriate; and expanding farm-based education opportunities. A fully equipped outdoor kitchen right in the community garden is also desired (and) will serve as a multi-use space for programs, events and rentals. Recently, a farm maintenance facility was constructed, and a local contractor is gearing up to renovate the welcome cottage as a gift to the parks department.”
According to Germantown Mayor Mike Palazzolo, his municipality is a “very unique place with values woven together by his residents.” He noted, “We cherish parks in our community, and our capital assets associated with the parks system literally have an impact within all nine focus areas contained in the Germantown Forward 2030 strategic plan.”
He added, “Accreditation of our parks department is critical to assure adherence to process and commitment to an organizational framework. As a community, we are proud to commit to having an accredited parks department.”
Another highlight of Farm Park is the community garden, which is tended by the 60 members of the community garden association. These members pay a fee and work a two-hour shift per week in exchange for a portion of the harvest. In doing so, these enthusiastic folks are learning biointensive growing techniques and networking with other passionate gardeners.
“No chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers are used,” Beasley said, adding that only natural, organic practices, drip irrigation and on-site composting were employed.
She noted, “Staff at the Farm Park, with help from community garden members, are preparing to expand the growing plan to include south field crop production. Income generated through the sale of cut flowers and other seasonal produce will provide financial support for operational costs. However, we’ve found our highest revenue is from private rentals, including weddings, corporate functions and a variety of other outdoor venues.”
Partnerships have contributed to Farm Park’s success, Beasley said.
“The Germantown Charity Horse Show renovated the stable building in 2013, valued at more than $250,000,” Beasley said, adding that the Germantown Methodist Hospital sponsored the youth educational programs and events on an annual basis.
“The Leadership Germantown class produced a highly successful fundraising event to implement the renovation of the welcome cottage, which is set to begin right away. Other partnerships continue to be created and include building a goat shed to expand the presence of farm animals at the site. Universities have provided seasonal interns as a way for them to gain ‘hands-on’ experience in a sustainable agricultural environment. An advocacy nonprofit board, the Bobby Lanier Farm Park Inc., has organized to implement a capital campaign to complete the building renovations and new construction in the master plan. And finally, there are the many volunteers who serve as ‘farm hands’ for everything from operating the farmer’s market to maintaining the grounds,” Beasley said.
Mayor Palazzolo concluded with a final comment:
“I’m very proud of our commitment to long-term planning and applaud our parks director and citizen-led parks and recreation commission for making the investment in a strategic master plan of parks system. The master plan will allow us to have a clear vision for our park system for the next 50 years.”