A volunteer teaching children about gardening at Brooklyn Heights Community Garden.

By V.S. Santoni

NASHVILLE, TN — Brooklyn Heights Community Garden is hosting an open house Wednesday, April 26. Nella “Ms. Pearl” Frierson founded Brooklyn Heights nearly 15 years ago. After an outburst of gang violence claimed a young man’s life, Ms. Pearl saw the need for a community space to foster healing. The lot where the garden sits stood vacant for some time before Ms. Pearl decided to buy the property and establish the garden. Now Ashley Brailsford and Anne Veal, former volunteers and now co-directors at the garden, want to bring Ms. Pearl’s project into a new era. 

Brailsford, whose backgrounds are in non-profit and education, is passionate about food insecurity, which she sharply reframes as “food apartheid,” adding, “. . . Food insecurity suggests the onus is on the person experiencing the insecurity, where apartheid is specifically calling out the system . . . [I]t was very, very intentional that there are no grocery stores that have a whole section of healthy produce in this 37207 zip code. It’s very intentional that Black and Brown folks are the individuals who are most impacted by not having access to healthy food.” 

She sees an opportunity to cultivate the garden, expanding it beyond its routine services—the garden provides space for people to plant and harvest their own food. When she started directing the garden in 2021, she noticed it lacked a leadership board and a formalized system for gathering funds. Under the new direction, the garden will now host programs covering a wide range of topics such as yoga, herbalism, writing, poetry, dancing, and art, to name a few. The open house provides the community a first chance to experience the new direction. 

Veal and Brailsford hope to bring together all of Ms. Pearl’s myriad contacts to form expansive partnerships. Brailsford said “She [Ms. Pearl] has made connections with people in all kinds of organizations . .  . [T]he issue was that she never had the capacity to follow up with those people . . . [S]o that is the work that Anne and I are now getting to do . . . we sat down with Ms. Pearl for two days and said, ‘Tell us everyone you know and all the speaking engagements you’ve done over the years.’” 

Brailsford hopes partnerships like those the garden is forming with The Healing Trust and Meharry Medical College will be financially beneficial to both parties, which will allow the garden to invest in more programs and services to benefit the North Nashville community.