Sizwe Herring, 56
Meet Sizwe Herring, the food hero of Nashville. As founder and director of EarthMatters Tennessee, Sizwe has made a huge impact on his community. In 1991, Sizwe began his work as project manager for the city wide Leaf Lift through a waste reduction project called the Green Neighborhoods Project. Sizwe was responsible with helping divert organic waste from the Tennessee landfills and incineration.
The Leaf Lift is an annual activity in which “Leaf Thieves” from the Green Neighborhoods Project rescue thousands of bags of leaves from Nashville area curbsides to use for organic composting. Sizwe and others from Green Neighborhoods Project also built and provided hundreds of backyard composting bins and did workshops to teach people how to compost. “More than 30% of the waste headed to the landfill doesn’t belong there… It’s organic,” explained Sizwe.
In 1996, EarthMatters Tennessee independently spun off from Green Neighborhoods project. “We looked at all of the soil that we were making from composting and started a network of community gardens, church gardens, and school gardens,” said Sizwe. As the founding organization that started community gardening in Nashville, the soil that they created has been used as the foundation for hundreds of gardens throughout the city. “We began managing a 4 acre urban greenway in South Nashville, planted trees, kept the litter picked up, put shrubs along the fence line to beautify it, and started collecting bags of leaves every fall,” said Sizwe.
This year, EarthMatters Tennessee is celebrating their 25th anniversary, and there certainly is a lot to celebrate. Sizwe has won numerous awards, including Middle Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year by the Tennessee Environmental Educators Association, the Local Hero recognition by the Local Table magazine, and the Real Food Hall of Fame by Community Food Advocates. Moving forward, Sizwe hopes to do more traveling to encourage other communities to start their own Leaf Lift project and teach people the importance of growing food.
How to get involved: