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Reviving Pellissippi State’s campus garden takes teamwork

Daelynn Crossno, left, and April Ellis in the Hardin Valley Campus Garden
Vienna Coffee Co. barista Daelynn Crossno, left, approached Hardin Valley Campus Garden Specialist April Ellis in spring 2022 with an idea: using Vienna’s used coffee grounds for compost in the campus garden, which grows fresh produce for students facing food insecurity. You can see Ellis’ three-tier composting bin in the background by the shed.

Did you know that Pellissippi State Community College has a campus garden to help provide fresh fruit and veggies to students who face food insecurity? 

Tucked behind the portable buildings next to the Student Recreation Center, the Hardin Valley Campus Garden grows produce to supplement the nonperishable food Student Care and Advocacy provides to Pellissippi Pantry participants. New part-time Garden Specialist April Ellis, who was hired in March, is hard at work planning and planting the crops that will be ready to harvest in time for fall semester. 

There are already apples, peaches and pears growing in the small orchard while Ellis plans to add grapes there and plant broccoli, collards, garlic, ground cherries, kale, lettuce, onions, potatoes, strawberries, sweet potatoes and tomatoes in the 48-foot by 84-foot garden. 

“The garden went to fallow during the pandemic; it was a field with 2-foot-high weeds,” said Ellis, who graduated from Pellissippi State in 2016 and transferred to the University of Tennessee, where she studied sociology and plant sciences with a focus on horticultural therapy. “To me, it’s like a clean slate. We’re going from eight raised beds to 18 raised beds.” 

As Ellis started working on a garden revitalization plan, focusing on crops that will be harvestable during the academic year, Associate Professor David Fey and his wife, Cathy, bush hogged the weeds and transplanted flowers and herbs. Professor Claude Hardy built gates for the newly installed rabbit fencing to keep critters from eating the garden, and student workers Malcolm Neely and Cami Lloyd have been valuable extra sets of hands, providing physical labor to keep the project moving forward. 

I’ve been blown away by the mountains they’ve moved!” Ellis said. 

Meanwhile, down in the former Hardin Valley Campus cafeteria, the Vienna Coffee Co. barista approached Ellis with an idea. 

“At our main store in Maryville, we spread the coffee grounds onto our flower beds,” explained Daelynn Crossno, who has been the lone Vienna barista assigned to the coffee house’s Hardin Valley Campus location. “I used to get rid of so many coffee grounds here. I’d take out the trash every day, and it was so heavy.” 

Crossno proposed collecting the used coffee grounds – both from espresso drinks and from drip coffee – for the garden, which would reduce Vienna Coffee’s waste and help Pellissippi State at the same time. Ellis thought this was an excellent idea and provided Crossno with 5-gallon buckets to fill. 

“Coffee grounds are good for organic matter, and they’re already partially broken down from the grinding process,” said Ellis, who uses a three-tier composting bin to prepare the mixture for the soil. “Now these coffee grounds will be composted and used to grow more food in the Garden.” 

Although Vienna Coffee will not be open on the Hardin Valley Campus over the summer, Crossno plans to return for fall semester. In the meantime, Ellis soon will be seeking volunteers to help get the garden’s crops in the ground. To learn more about the Hardin Valley Campus Garden and how you can help, email