On September 16, 2023, over 300 people attended the first-of-its-kind “Smart Yards & Friends Festival” hosted by the Knox County Master Gardeners at the University of Tennessee Gardens in Knoxville. The purpose of the event was to engage Knoxville-area residents with information on sustainable landscaping practices and how to certify their yards as Tennessee Smart Yards while also creating a template that could be replicated by other groups across the state.
From the onset of planning for the event back in spring, host and Knox County Master Gardener Mona Yetherij, knew the interest in sustainable landscaping was high, but how to motivate people to attend the festival? Mona had the answer, and it was an action-packed agenda and expert and enthusiastic group of volunteers with demonstrations and giveaways, conversation starters and kids activities. The program ran from 9am to noon, and there was something going on every half hour. Demonstrations of building worm compost bins and installing rain barrels earned visitors a raffle ticket, as did pre-registering ahead of time or completing the self-guided virtual Smart Yards Trail around the UT Gardens. Raffle prizes were given away on the hour, and winners must have been present to win. Prizes included two assembled worm compost bins, a rain barrel, and native plants grown by the Knox County Master Gardeners.
There were a dozen tables to visit to see demonstrations and hear about local partnering organizations. There was the “Ask a Master Gardener” booth and a table dedicated to native plants of the region where even more seed-grown plants were given to attendees. Attendees could also visit a table to get tips and advice for starting their path to yard certification from Master Gardeners who had certified Tennessee Smart Yards. The next generation of stewards also had options, where there were coffee filter butterflies coming to life and a lot of coloring. At the Wallace Real Estate table, recent graduates of the Certified Smart Yard Real Estate Agent pilot program answered questions about how they are promoting smart yards as people buy and sell homes. The Water Quality Forum, Smoky Mountain Chapter of Wild Ones, Ijams Nature Center, and the UT Gardens were all there having conversations about the collective local effort to protect our water and natural resources.
The energy around land and water stewardship and growing greener communities was tangible the entire event. It could not have been possible without the 20+ Master Gardener and other volunteers who helped make it happen. The success of the event shows that interest in nurturing naturally healthy landscapes is indeed high in East Tennessee and provides a roadmap for others to harness that energy to amplify stewardship conversations in communities across the state.