Backyard Gardeners Program


Learn how to grow, cook, and preserve food right from your backyard!  This program offers a year of organic gardening education and support from how to plan out a garden in the spring to extending the season in the fall and everything in between.


The 2021 Application is Now Open! 

The deadline to apply is Jan 31st.

Program Info

Participating families are offered monthly organic gardening education workshops March through September on timely topics.  They are also provided with tilling support, plants, seeds, fertilizer, tools, and other materials to help raise a successful garden located in their backyards (or the front, we’ll put it where ever gets the most sunlight!).  The program is free to participating families, due to generous grant support from Grow Appalachia.

Recruitment for the program begins in January of each year and families are notified in February if they’ve been accepted into the program.  All ages, incomes, and family sizes are able to apply, but we put special emphasis on recruiting low-income families, families receiving SNAP and/or disability benefits, and families with young children.

This program arose out of a shared desire to support the growth of a sustainable, community-based food system in our area. Through gaining the necessary skills, knowledge, and commitment to gardening and farming, our community is enriched by increased access to foods whose roots are close to home– fresh, organic, and healthier for the local economy and environment.  We will prioritize folks who wouldn’t otherwise be able to garden without the support of this program, because our goal is to increase access to healthy, fresh food for all members of our community regardless of income.

Due to Covid-19, we will host our initial workshops online on Zoom.  As the vaccine role-out progresses, we will monitor infection rates in our community and make a decision in the early summer whether to continue online or meet in person.  We are looking forward to being able to gather together as a community of gardeners soon!


Carter, Unicoi & Washington Counties

BIU mainly serves these three counties, though we do sometimes take families from other surrounding counties as long as they are within 25 miles of Johnson City.  Click here to see if there is another Grow Appalachia program site near you.


March through September

Workshops are generally held on the first Monday from 6-7:30pm.  Due to Covid-19, workshops will be held on Zoom until it is safe to once again gather in person.  See the 2021 schedule of workshops here.


Families & Individuals

We serve 40-50 families a year, with at least 25 new families recruited each year.  Participants are allowed up to two years in the program.  Read blogs written by our participating families here.

100% Organic

The education and materials distributed will be strictly organic.  While we do provide tilling assistance and some organic pest and disease control sprays, we also teach how to transition to no-till gardening and create a healthy, resilient environment that is in balance with nature.  We believe that healthy soils grow healthy plants that don’t need a lot of inputs to produce an abundance of good food.

“The knowledge that I have gained from Build It Up…has allowed us more success in the last two years than I had imagined possible.” – Emily P

Program Requirements

Applicants need to have access to land for a garden, but do not need to actually own the land used.  If you don’t own property, talk with your landlord, neighbors, family, friends or contact an area community garden to find suitable space. 

A good garden spot will:

  • Be at least 20′ x 25′ (500 square feet)
  • Receive at least 6 hours or more of direct sunlight each day
  • Be on relatively level ground (not on a hillside!)
  • Not be on top of a septic tank drain field
  • Not have exposed bedrock or excessive rocks or tree roots
  • Not be placed in a flood zone or an otherwise swampy location

We can help people who have poor soil, but we cannot work miracles like making a hillside flat!  Please get out and check on the conditions of the location where you want to garden. Get a shovel and take a look at the soil.  Observe where the sunlight comes from and check the land out after a heavy rain. Part of being a gardener is learning to observe the natural world!  If you don’t have a suitable location on your property, Build It Up is willing to help connect participants with land. If you don’t currently have access, please feel free to still apply!

Program Cost

The program is free for participants.  Build It Up provides tilling, plants, seeds, fertilizer, tools, and other materials and in exchange, we ask that participants attend all workshops, keep thorough harvest records, and submit a blog once per season.  

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