Bamboo can be..

Bamboo can be..

Bamboo can be food, floors and more crop is suggested for urban gardens

By Clay Carey
THE TENNESSEAN

Today, the bamboo crop at the George W. Carver Food Park consists of a small stand of plants at the corner of Gale and Lealand lanes in Nashville.

But the crop is growing, and park organizers are trying to introduce it to urban gardens.

Earth Matters Tennessee, an organization that promotes sustainability and conservation, sponsored a workshop on growing bamboo at the park Saturday. Earth Matters Tennessee maintains the food park, one of Nashville’s oldest community gardens.

Renee Somers, one of close to two dozen people at the presentation, said bamboo crops would be a great addition to the food park, but not necessarily to lead to woven baskets and bowls of shoots at the dinner table.

“I’m trying to do something with my life that returns things to the earth,” the Nashville elementary school art teacher said. “I’m not dying to get a bamboo crop, but I am dying to get something into my community that puts something back.”

Bamboo’s building use can stretch beyond flooring and wall coverings, said Adam Turtle, co-director of the Earth Advocates Research Farm. Turtle, 68, owns a bamboo nursery in Summertown, Tenn., and has spoken internationally about the plant’s potential uses.

“Anything you can do with wood, bamboo would be a candidate,” Turtle said. Some construction companies have used bamboo in place of steel for reinforcing concrete.

Grown in small patches in urban areas, he said, flexible bamboo stems can be used to weave baskets, and stands of bamboo can shield homes from road noise.

“You can grow your own fencing. You can grow your own trellises,” he said. “As you build familiarity with the plant, new applications will occur to you.”

The plant has many uses, although federal agriculture experts say few are explored in the United States. Hard statistics on bamboo growth and use are rare, because the crop’s commercial use often goes unreported, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States.

Sizwe Herring, executive director of Earth Matters Tennessee, said there are plans in place to plant more bamboo at the Carver Food Park. Its biggest use, he said, will probably be filling bellies. Bamboo shoots are edible, and the crop will join other food crops like fruit trees, blackberries and blueberries.

“The problem is delayed gratification,” Herring said, explaining it can take several years for bamboo crops to mature.

“We’ve just got to grit our teeth and bear it.”