Reconnecting with Family History Through Food

Today is International Women’s Day, a global day that celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Beyond that, this year’s theme for this day is #BeBoldForChange, something we at The Nashville Food Project work towards every day using the power of good food.

In honor of International Women’s Day, we are celebrating one of the incredible women we work with in our community gardens. Ifeoma Scott and her husband have been growing in our Wedgewood Neighbors Garden since last year after hearing about it from their friends Jay and former Meals Assistant Makisha, or Kiki as Ifeoma calls her, at Mt. Zion Church.

Ifeoma and her husband

Ifeoma and her husband

Ifeoma had long been a container gardener, but she wanted a chance to grow in the ground, directly in the dirt. Beyond that, she wanted to be active with other gardeners. “Because of where I live - it’s an urban area - I don’t have the chance to interact with many gardeners. This was my first time interacting with other gardeners besides my uncle who lives in Illinois. It was really important for me to get involved and to see how others grew their food.”

The comradery of growing food was extremely important to Ifeoma. For her, growing food is a family affair so personal connection and gardening go hand in hand. Her great grandfathers were farmers - in Mississippi and Arkansas, and her fraternal grandfather grew plots in his backyard in Illinois, practicing urban gardening before we even had the term.

“For me, it’s not only sustainability, but it’s part of my history. I wish I had [my grandfathers] to ask them questions…Farming is a hard job, but my great grandfather [who farmed in Mississippi] made it look so easy.”

Ifeoma has loved learning more about her family and herself in the garden. “I get to learn, see, be patient. I’ve never been a patient person until I started gardening, but I can’t just make something grow. I have to be patient.”

Since growing in the Wedgewood Neighbors Garden, Ifeoma has reignited a curiosity about all the small things that come together to grow food. “I get excited about seeing animals and things in the garden - insects and worms - and how that really helps the garden and how it functions,” she tells us. Always looking to learn, Ifeoma has become most interested in growing heirloom varieties, and she’s challenged herself to successfully grow lettuce for the first time this year.

She’s also learned about other cultures growing alongside refugee gardeners from Bhutan and Burma. In college, Ifeoma studied international business so she’s always been interested in other cultures, but in the garden she’s had the opportunity to see it all first-hand. “I just like seeing how different people garden and seeing the different plots. How they’re using natural structures to trellis. That type of thing excites me - seeing how people do it differently.”

Ifeoma has enjoyed creating a sustainable food source for herself, her husband and their friends. Now she’s learning to compost and hopes to take on canning next so she can continue to share her garden-grown food with her friends and family.

She says it’s important for people to understand where their food comes from. It can be easy to take for granted the time and effort that so many people put into producing our food.

“You don’t realize how important food is, and people who give their lives to do this. To farm. To give us the food we have on our tables. It means so much more than just putting things in the dirt. It’s the history of my family and what I’ll do for my children someday.”

Want to keep in touch with Ifeoma and what she's growing? Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @Yepshegrewit.

New Meal Partnership Supports Immigrant Families

Evidence has shown that the more parents get involved in their children’s’ lives, the better the children learn, behave and develop. The Nashville Food Project’s newest meal partnership supports programming that invites immigrant families into schools to feel at home in these spaces, in order to connect and engage with their children’s education.

Earlier this year The Nashville Food Project began a new partnership with Alignment Nashville, an initiative to improve the education and health of Nashville’s youth by providing tools that bring the community together for more effective results than we could each accomplish alone. One example is a weekly community night with the goal of Linking, Empowering and Advancing Families - LEAF. Held each Wednesday at Wright Middle School, these LEAF Community Nights allow families to meet over dinner - prepared by The Nashville Food Project - and get connected with community resources. Adults can attend community workshops and ESL classes, while their children receive other enrichment opportunities. 

Through this partnership, The Nashville Food Project is sharing a weekly meal that brings immigrant families together to build a community around their children, one that is welcoming and supports youth in their education and development.

This meal has also been an opportunity to connect two of our partners with similar missions. Similar to the LEAF Community Nights, the Oasis Center’s International Teen Outreach Program (ITOP) supports immigrant, refugee and first generation American teens, providing a safe setting for these youth to explore and engage American culture. One aspect of ITOP is building community connection through volunteerism. 

For more than six years, ITOP participants have volunteered with The Nashville Food Project monthly, sharing a meal from our food trucks or volunteering in our gardens, and now they share this meal with families who are not so different from their own.

Working with our partners at Alignment Nashville and the Oasis Center has provided an opportunity to bring immigrant children, teens and families together to have a real impact on the lives of each of these partners and our community. The Nashville Food Project believes that when we all come together in community, transformational change can happen, and we look forward to seeing how this new partnership transforms our community for the better!

Food Crosses Cultural Boundaries

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It’s a warm day in early October at the Nashville Farmer’s Market, I’m sitting at our table, assisting customers and rearranging the produce as the hours pass. The crowd has just picked up, and I observe some curious onlookers eye the assortment of unique vegetables on our table: from spikey bitter gourds to long, curling beans.

It’s just Thomas Piang and me; Thomas is a farmer originally from Myanmar working in the Growing Together program. We’ve so far spent our time talking about Burma/Myanmar in between helping customers. I curiously ask him about spiritual practices and the environment of his home country, he tells me briefly about the unrest in Burma/Myanmar, touching on military rule and government dysfunction.

We break in conversation as an enthusiastic regular customer approaches our table. Smiling, he shakes Thomas’ hand and looks at our selection before deciding on a bunch of red yardlong beans and bag of arugula. He turns back to Thomas, “So, you’re from Burma, right?” he pauses and looks down, “Ah, I’m so sorry! I meant Myanmar.” Thomas smiles and nods and the two engage in a short conversation. A few minutes later, the customer gathers his things and says goodbye to Thomas, “Well, so glad to see you. Again, thanks for everything”.

Thomas’ story of coming to America, although personally unique, reflects circumstances similar to those of our other farmers. As a program, we predominately work with individuals originally from Bhutan, Burma/Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, countries with histories of civil unrest and ethnic or religious persecution. Although all of the farmers we work with represent unique ethnic and cultural communities, they all share an agrarian background and passion for growing food. However, access to land and resources in an urban area with many neighborhoods relegated as “food deserts” can prove be difficult. 

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This is where Growing Together comes into the picture. It is our goal to not only provide technical assistance by offering land and tools for the families we work with, but also to help foster community and ultimately promote food sovereignty in those communities.

Food is culturally universal, and the ability to grow one’s food, and have access to items that are culturally relevant is of incredible importance. Having access to familiar produce can not only help to maintain the strength of cultural communities, especially to those engaged in the ongoing process of resettling in a new country, but it also invites others to learn more about people or cuisine they deem unfamiliar.

I realize now that the interaction between Thomas and the customer at the market was more than just a conversation. Rather, it was a metaphor for what we hope is born out of the Growing Together program: the building of community both within and outside of cultural boundaries. Food is more often than not the catalyst for these interactions, and, in my opinion, nothing breaks the ice better than discussing how to cook komatsuna. 

This article was written by Krysten Cherkaski. Krysten has been with the Nashville Food Project since August 2016 supporting the Growing Together Program. She comes to us from Fresno, California and is currently a Belle H. Bennett fellow with the Scarritt Bennett Center.

Fuel for the Job

Five days a week, the office of Project Return, a nonprofit organization situated near a downtown bus line with views of the Nashville skyscape, hums with the purposeful activity of men and women determined to gain employment after returning from incarceration. For three full days, they participate in Project Return’s job readiness program, attending classes on topics such as money management and computer literacy and receiving individualized support on resume building and mock interviews. All the while, Project Return works diligently to support these individuals in securing employment, an often difficult task for those with a felony conviction, but one necessary to building a full and free life after incarceration.

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These individuals face seemingly insurmountable barriers. For many returning to society, systemic poverty rears its head in many ways – hunger, unemployment, homelessness, social stigma, transportation, and often isolation. This means that commitment and intention towards gaining employment requires a vast array of simultaneous wraparound services. 

At The Nashville Food Project, we know that hunger is an immediate, and often critical need for many vulnerable residents of Nashville. And we know that it is often only one of the many burdens of poverty our neighbors face. In partnership with Project Return, The Nashville Food Project provides two lunch time meals each week for the job readiness program participants. 

This week, participants in the program will come together around a communal table during the lunch break to share a beef and broccoli stir fry, garden salad with homemade dressings, and fresh fruit, each component of which was thoughtfully and creatively repurposed for these hardworking individuals.

These meals meet an immediate need faced by many in this program – hunger. And more, as Executive Director of Project Return Bettie Kirkland claims, as “we rally our efforts to propelling people into employment, these meals are literally fuel for the job! It's hard to be an effective job seeker if you're hungry and you're worried about where you'll get your next meal. [Knowing] they're going to leave here with a full stomach frees up brain space for the information we're giving to them.”

Further, The Nashville Food Project seeks to alleviate hunger and cultivate community, knowing that food provides nourishment, healing and belonging when shared together. As our food truck pulls up to Project Return each week, we are setting a place at a communal table where all are welcome. 

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Because people stay at [the Project Return] offices during lunch and eat together, it’s common to hear laughter and stories being shared. This builds a sense of community and camaraderie in our office and sitting down for a meal with others is all part of a successful return to society from incarceration. It incentivizes staying in our program, which is a launchpad for building a full and free life.
— Bettie Kirkland, Project Return Executive Director

In the face of what daily feels like unlimited need, The Nashville Food Project begins each new partnership in our meals program strategically, not only sharing good food, but asking, “how can good food support the work already happening in your community?”  Through our meal partnerships, TNFP uses the food we grow and recover, the power of human labor, and the spirit of collaboration to disrupt cycles of poverty in Nashville.

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In addition to Project Return, we work in collaboration with 26 other nonprofit organizations such as The Contributor, Operation Stand Down, GANG (Gentlemen And Not Gangsters), and Begin Anew, among many others. As we share these meals, we believe in the power of these partnerships to alleviate hunger, bring people together, and transform communities. 

How we Cooked in 2016

With the addition of several new meal partnerships, 2016 was a year of unprecedented growth in our meals program! We opened a second kitchen at St. Luke’s Community House, doubled our meals production, nearly tripled our food recovery efforts and added a total of FIVE new positions to our meals team! 

We can’t talk about changes in our meals program without starting with our biggest change - in March of 2016, we opened our second kitchen site at St. Luke’s Community House. This was an exciting opportunity to double our meals outputs while building a solid relationship with a new partner in St. Luke’s. We completed a minor renovation of the kitchen, adjusting the layout and bringing in new equipment and shelving to maximize the space and ensure that we worked efficiently while producing the healthiest meals possible. 

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Volunteer extraordinaire Ann Fundis led the opening of the new kitchen and worked tirelessly to get the kitchen up and running until permanent staff, Kelli Johnson and Sarah Morgan, were hired. We were able to expand our volunteer opportunities and add new morning prep times to support the kitchen. Thanks to an amazing team of HCA volunteers, we also built and initiated a robust new compost system at St. Luke’s to utilize any food waste generated by the kitchen. Through all these efforts, we’ve been able to provide more than 100 preschoolers and seniors with more high-quality fruits and vegetables five days a week.

Determined to make a real difference in the amount of usable food entering our city’s waste stream, we created the new position of Food Donations Coordinator. In the role, Booth Jewett, has strengthened partnerships with local farmers, grocers and markets to nearly triple the amount of food we recovered from 2015 to 2016. This has provided more than $150,000 of food to support our meals program while keeping costs down.

In addition to recovering more food, Booth has also initiated partnerships with 11 nonprofits to share excess donated food. These partners use this food in their own kitchens and stock client refrigerators, ensuring even more have reliable access to fresh food.

In our South Hall kitchen, we’ve also seen incredible growth, hiring new Meals Manager Christa Ross and Meals Assistant Kathleen Costello. This new staffing helped us increase South Hall meals outputs from just over 1,000 each week in 2015 to more than 1,300 each week in 2016. We added additional volunteer prep times, re-arranged the prep space and created new systems to make our work more efficient and ensure that we are making the best use of every resource we have!

How we Grew in 2016

In 2016, our garden program grew from three garden sites to five, and we became more intentional about the way we use these sites to grow both nourishing food and community. 

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In the spring, we partnered with the Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee to launch the Growing Together market garden program, supporting nine refugee farmers in growing and selling produce through a booth at the Nashville Farmers’ Market, wholesale sales to restaurants and through an online food hub. In the fall, we fully integrated this program and the Refugee Agriculture Partnership Program’s two community gardens into our existing operations.

Through this expansion, we’ve also grown our garden-based adult education program, offering weekly and monthly training opportunities to diverse groups of adults who participate in community and market gardens. 

We began thinking about the program as an urban agriculture program with three distinct types of gardens: production gardens, community gardens and a market garden.

Our staffing reflected growing program needs in 2016. We welcomed Lauren Bailey, previously Director of Agriculture Program at CRIT, as Growing Together (market garden) Manager. Former Garden Coordinator Kia Brown has transitioned into the role of Community Garden Manager to support TNFP’s four community garden sites. Former Garden Manager Christina Bentrup has transitioned to Garden Director to provide long-term leadership of the program. We are currently hiring a Production Garden Manager to provide technical assistance to all gardens and care for ecosystem components.

How YOU Nourished Our City in 2016

The Nashville Food Project has always been an organization powered by the work of so many incredible community volunteers. In 2016 YOU helped us do more than ever before! Check out this Top Ten list of our 2016 volunteer program accomplishments:

10. We piloted an online volunteer sign-in system at our South Hall kitchen. As we continue to refine the program, we’ve loved the positive attitudes and helpful feedback we’ve received from volunteers. Our goal is to make volunteering an easy and fun experience from start to finish.

9. We welcomed a new Volunteer Coordinator, Mariah Ragland! Mariah joined the team to coordinate all volunteer activities and promote The Nashville Food Project to new groups of volunteers. It’s been wonderful to see volunteers embrace Mariah and work with her to continue improving The Nashville Food Project’s volunteer experience.

8. In addition to opening our second kitchen in partnership with St. Luke’s Community House in March, we added 10 new weekly volunteer opportunities to support the production of those meals. With your help we’ve been able to serve 1,330 meals a week to a new community!

7. We welcomed many new community and corporate partners as volunteers. New partners like Clyde’s On Church and Taco Mamacita have become regular volunteers. Existing partners like Jackson National Life Insurance have increased their volunteer efforts, helping us to continue to grow our work.

6. As our urban agriculture program expanded, so did volunteer opportunities in our new gardens! In 2016, we added ongoing volunteer activities in the McGruder Community Garden, Blackman Road Garden and Haywood Lane Garden. 

5. On December 30 and 31st, volunteers helped us collect food and monetary donations at back-to-back Widespread Panic shows at Bridgestone arena. During these two nights, we collected almost $5,000 and 200 pounds of food to support our programs!

4. We implemented a new way to highlight our incredibly dedicated volunteers with a Volunteer of the Month recognition. Each month, our staff submits names of volunteers who have gone above and beyond typical volunteer activities. One outstanding volunteer is selected to be featured in our kitchens the following month. We love having another way to thank and recognize the many people who make our work possible.

3. While we’re so grateful for our dedicated, regular volunteers, we were excited to welcome many new faces in 2016! Organization-wide, each month an average of 370 unique volunteers served in our kitchens, in our gardens and on our food trucks.

2. The year kicked off in a big way when we were invited to recover food from a meat conference hosted at Gaylord Opryland Hotel. A group of 15 volunteers joined TNFP staff for a crazy night of sorting, packing, and storing more than 11,000 pounds of meat. This supplied our TNFP meals with meat from February through October, feeding more than 70,000 in our community!

1. We truly are blown away by the support of our community as we worked to nourish our city in 2016. Looking back on the year, we’re thrilled to say that 7,047 volunteers gave a total of 17,967 hours of volunteer service to The Nashville Food Project! The US Bureau of Labor Statistics values an hour of volunteer time at $23.56, meaning that TNFP volunteers gave a value of $423,303 of time to our community. Thank you!

How we Shared in 2016

Thanks to the support of our incredible community, in 2016 The Nashville Food Project shared more food than ever before! Through a new partnership with St. Luke’s Community House and the addition of eight new meal partners, we doubled our annual meals production from 50,000 to 16 partners in 2015 to over 114,000 to 23 partners in 2016! 

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Our students have been more open to trying new foods. We see a better attitude, more even energy & well balanced moods on TNFP food days. Our community suppers have helped us unite our families & staff.
— Preston Taylor Ministries
[The Nashville Food Project’s meals have] allowed us focus on independent skill-building by treating this as restaurant/learning opportunity. Our clients have had access to new, nutrient dense foods that they have loved.
— Friends Life Community

In 2016, we increased our food recovery efforts, recovering over 108,000 pounds of food that would otherwise be thrown away. About one quarter of all recovered food was shared with new partner organizations. These partners used the food in their own kitchens and helped stock refrigerators for their residents and clients. This ensured that even more families had reliable access to fresh, healthy food. 

Best If Used: SAVE THE FOOD

Earlier this month, The Nashville Food Project was invited to participate in an exciting event with state and local partners, including the Nashville Farmers’ Market, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and Metro Nashville Public Works, among others.

The event, called “Save the Food,” included a screening of the 2014 documentary “Just Eat It,” a funny, entertaining look into food waste at various points in the food system, from farm, production, and retail, all the way to the home fridge. The film was accompanied by a delicious meal prepared by our innovative Meals Team. The dinner we served—a vegetarian chili with all the fixings—was made with rescued food, including an apple ginger tea, made by steeping apple peels and ginger in hot water.

The event was part of a larger effort to reduce food waste in Nashville, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). To learn more about how to reduce food waste in Nashville and across our country, please visit www.savethefood.com

Our Apple Guy

Earlier this year, a kind and generous member of our community reached out to us with an unexpected, creative idea. Joe Hodgson had learned about the work we are doing to cultivate community and alleviate hunger in Nashville and wanted to get involved.

Joe has a love for apples, particularly heirloom varieties of apples that are hard to find in grocery stores. As he nears retirement and prepares to turn over his landscape architecture business, Joe says he wants to put his love for apples and fresh food into action! He's in the process of purchasing land near the Cumberland Plateau, where he plans to plant an orchard and donate the apples to The Nashville Food Project.

But in the years leading up to the production of this orchard vision, Joe has made a commitment to visiting a local family orchard on the plateau and buying apples that he then donates to our kitchens, landing him the affectionate title of “our Apple Guy” around here. Joe’s generosity is extraordinary! Fresh fruit is one of the most expensive things that we regularly buy for our meals, and it is rarely donated. In both of our kitchens, we try to include fresh fruit with most of our meals.

Joe’s creative donation has brought more innovation into our kitchens! With just one recent donation, our volunteers have already made these delicious, nutritious treats:

Dehydrated Apple Slices

Dehydrated Apple Slices

Apple Butter

Apple Butter

Apple Sauce

Apple Sauce

Apple Pie

Apple Pie

We send a big thanks to Joe, our Apple Guy, for the incredible, creative way he is supporting the work of The Nashville Food Project!

Partnering with our Farmer Friends

Grow, cook and share. These three activities anchor our mission at The Nashville Food Project. The work of all three is connected, and when done in ways that intentionally bring people together, as our organization aims to do, this work has the power to create real and lasting change in a community.

The Nashville Food Project’s work to grow, cook, and share is supported by a list of food donating partners, many of them local farmers and growers. On the blog today we want to introduce some of our farmer friends and tell you more about our partnership with each:

Bill and Mary Ruth Lane, Lookin' Up Farm

Bill and Mary Ruth Lane at Lookin’ Up Farm are longtime supporters of The Nashville Food Project. They have been donating their fresh produce to our meals program for five years, but beginning early summer 2016, we began to explore how we could better support their work and begin a true partnership.

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Now, once each month, Food Donations Coordinator Booth and a team of volunteers head out to Bon Aqua, TN to volunteer at the farm. There, Bill and Mary Ruth have a 150’ x 150’ garden, as well as many fruit trees, from which nearly all of what is grown is donated to The Nashville Food Project and other local nonprofits serving low-income communities. Booth and the volunteers help with weeding, planting and harvesting, and they bring harvested food back to The Nashville Food Project to be incorporated into our meals. Lookin’ Up supports our meals with a great variety of produce. Highlights include:

SO MUCH KOHLRABI SLAW!

SO MUCH KOHLRABI SLAW!

PEARS! We made pear butter, pear bakes, pear slices for snack, etc.

PEARS! We made pear butter, pear bakes, pear slices for snack, etc.

Greens! A favorite at several of our meal sites.

Greens! A favorite at several of our meal sites.

The Giving Garden

Started by Franklin First United Methodist Church, the folks at The Giving Garden grow food on the land that will eventually become the church’s new home. They have plenty of land to share and now have a group of dedicated volunteers who farm that land and give away 100% of what they grow to people and organizations who value fresh produce and serve people in need. We’ve helped connect their volunteers with incredible organizations to receive some of this food, and they have donated beautiful over-wintered spinach and other produce to our meals program.

Hank Delvin & Crew, Delvin Farms

This summer alone, longtime food donor Hank Delvin and the folks at Delvin Farms have donated thousands of pounds of Yukon gold potatoes, watermelons and yellow squash. As they’ve ramped up their food donations, we’ve also stepped up our support of their work. In fact, we have an upcoming opportunity for you to get involved!

We’ll be at Delvin helping out Hank and the gang later this week on Thursday, October 20th. They are swimming in green beans and told us that we could have anything that we could pick. We don’t turn down an offer like that! We’ll blanche them, roast them and incorporate them into casseroles! If you’d like to help out, please contact Booth at booth@thenashvillefoodproject.org.

Celebrating the Summer Harvest

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On a recent Saturday the Wedgewood Neighbors Community garden teamed up with the McGruder Green Thumbers Community garden for their Summer Harvest Potluck Celebration. These celebrations are held at the end of each season (spring, summer, and fall) as a way to toast the previous season, share accomplishments, and show other gardeners how they prepare their harvest. 

This season’s event at McGruder celebrated more than just a successful summer growing season. The United Way Family Resource Center welcomed a new lead agency and several new nonprofit partners to better serve its North Nashville community. We opened up the celebration and invited The Nashville Food Project staff, the entire staff at the McGruder Family Resource Center, as well as The Little Pantry that Could participants. 

It was a great way for our community gardeners to welcome the new organizations in the building while also showing off their amazing garden. The grill was hot, the food was flowing, and there were plenty of laughs to go around as people shared picnic tables and stories of either their gardening adventures or humorous attempts

Guest Chef Series: Hal Holden-Bache and Jaime Miller of Lockeland Table

Chef Hal Holden-Bache of Lockeland Table has been cooking with love in his heart since at least age 8. That’s when he began giving his “hard-working mother some time off,” he says. “I enjoyed cooking more than I did my homework. She allowed me to do that.”

He also realized he liked to cook because he liked to eat. “At some point in time you gotta learn to feed yourself,” he says.

The love--and independence--that comes along with learning to cook was a theme important to both Holden-Bache and Lockeland'sPastry Chef Jaime Miller. The two chefs visited The Nashville Food Project this year as volunteers.

Jaime, a chef-participant in TNFP's first RISE event last December, took an interest in hospitality as a way to find freedom in life. She wanted to be on her own at age 15. So, she graduated high school early and found work in restaurants as soon as she could. But even as she sought independence, the experiences helped her appreciate family. “It made me realize how talented my mom was,” she says.

At The Nashville Food Project, Miller and Holden-Bache’s experience and talent showed as they floated effortlessly around the kitchen to prepare a gourmet meal for 75 men and women who reside at the John Glenn Residential Center in North Nashville.

The ingredients for their meal had been gleaned or donated from at least six different sources. Miller worked on a sheet pan of cubed sweet potatoes from Delvin Farms laced with kale that had been donated from a local catered event. She added apple gleaned from Whole Foods Market along with raisins and garlic before drizzling it with honey and slipping it into the oven.

Meanwhile, Holden-Bache prepped pork loin and pancetta donated earlier this year after a meat conference at Gaylord Opryland Hotel. He flavored the pork with onion, mushroom and sherry from TNFP cupboards.

The community effort that is cooking in the TNFP kitchens was a perfect match for these talented chefs.

Community, after all, is a word that’s important to both Holden-Bache and Miller. They begin dinner service at the restaurant each night with Community Hour, a play on Happy Hour that offers a portion of proceeds from specially priced drinks and small plates to local causes.

Holden-Bache preferred “community table” over “café or restaurant” when naming his place. Because in thinking about feeding Nashville, he wanted to say: “We’re here for you.” 

And he also says he felt drawn to the word community while reading TNFP’s mission statement: Bringing people together to grow, cook and share nourishing food, with the goals of cultivating community and alleviating hunger in our city.

“Food should be something we’re all able to do,” he says both in terms of access and preparation. He’s careful not to take it for granted by working to reduce food waste at the restaurant, to give back when he can and to reflect on his good fortune when he enjoys a meal.

“This is so good,” he recalled saying between bites to a friend recently, “We’re lucky, man.” 

Chef Holden-Bache looks through gleaned food from Whole Foods with Meals Director Anne Sale. 

Chef Holden-Bache looks through gleaned food from Whole Foods with Meals Director Anne Sale. 

The chef checks out TNFP's kitchen garden at Woodmont. 

The chef checks out TNFP's kitchen garden at Woodmont. 

Herbs pulled from TNFP's kitchen garden will go into the dish. 

Herbs pulled from TNFP's kitchen garden will go into the dish. 

Chefs Holden-Bache and Miller pause to taste during the cooking process.

Chefs Holden-Bache and Miller pause to taste during the cooking process.

Small Changes with BIG Impact

This week The Nashville Food Project will share more than double the meals we served this week last year! In a "normal" week (we're always figuring out what that means), we’re currently sharing 3,000 delicious, nutritious meals and snacks each week as compared to 1,200 weekly meals only a year ago. This growth is the result of adding a second kitchen to our ranks, increasing meal prep opportunities for volunteers and the smart-working instinct and intellect of our meals team. But it's also due in large part to an intentional transition in the way that many of our meals are shared.

While our volunteers still share many of our meals in parking lots alongside our food trucks, now roughly 2,200 of the meals and snacks we make each week are delivered to and served by our community partners. Of these 2,200 meals, roughly 900 are prepared in our South Hall kitchen by incredible volunteers and then loaded into our food trucks to be delivered to our meal distribution partners by our staff. The nonprofit partner handles the coordination and facilitation of sharing the meal with its clients and in its community.

This change was made in response to the needs expressed by our community partners. Many came to us with the same problem and asked us how we might be of the solution: They knew that offering a meal or some food for their clients and communities would improve participation and engagement in their programs, but lacking the time and know-how, many were spending their precious resources on pizza and fast food. These partners wanted a way to strengthen their programs with food they would be proud to serve. At the same time, we at The Nashville Food Project were actively looking for ways to broaden the impact of our meals, so that they might come alongside some other kinds of work and programming to alleviate the burdens of being poor.

The Contributor is just one of our partners who serve a TNFP meal alongside their programming. This is a lunch served with their weekly new vendor trainings.

The Contributor is just one of our partners who serve a TNFP meal alongside their programming. This is a lunch served with their weekly new vendor trainings.

A significant change in our meals structure also meant we needed to make a change in our food trucks, and we have longtime corporate partner and enthusiastic supporter Triumph Aerostructures to thank for making that happen! Over the past few months, Triumph modified our food trucks to provide capacity to hold 24 full-size catering pans at temperature on each truck. This means that on a single itinerary we can now share up to 300 meals and snacks in the community! It’s been a small change that has had a BIG impact on how we're working to cultivate community and alleviate hunger in our city.

Driver side & back flap: 3 insulated food carriers installed in each location - maximizes storage capacity & allows all food to be transported with temperature control

Driver side & back flap: 3 insulated food carriers installed in each location - maximizes storage capacity & allows all food to be transported with temperature control

Passenger side: space for market-style display of fresh produce or sack lunch items

Passenger side: space for market-style display of fresh produce or sack lunch items

Nourish Nashville

Nourish 2016 did not disappoint! In its fifth year, the event raised more than $135,000 in support of The Nashville Food Project’s mission to grow, cook and share nourishing food.

This year’s event, held on July 28th at the Hutton Hotel, brought together 275 friends of The Nashville Food Project to celebrate recent accomplishments and enjoy an exquisite meal prepared by six of the Southeast’s most notable chefs.

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The evening kicked off with margaritas prepared by Chipotle Mexican Grill, served alongside several delicious Mexican-inspired hors d’ouevres from Chef Nick Hertel of Merchants. Attendees ate and mingled while perusing the silent auction, which featured nearly 80 packages thanks to the generosity of our Nashville community.

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Guests then gathered at the table to enjoy a five-course meal paired with wines from Lipman Brothers. Local food writer and friend of the Food Project Chris Chamberlain elicited many laughs from the stage as emcee of this year's event. The dinner included watermelon salad by Chef Bill Smith of Chapel Hill’s Crook’s Corner, curried catfish and grits by Chef Asha Gomez of Atlanta’s Spice to Table, Bear Creek Farms pork belly by Chef Matt Bell of Little Rock’s South on Main, and beef by Chef Cole Ellis of Cleveland, MS’s Delta Meat Market. After a rousing live auction, guests enjoyed a blueberry posset by Butcher & Bee’s Cynthia Wong as well as take-home cookies from Christie Cookie Co. on their way out.

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Huge thanks to all in attendance at Nourish this year. A special thanks to our sponsors for making this year’s Nourish possible: First Tennessee Foundation, Chipotle Mexican Grill, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Community Trust, Dorothy Cate and Thomas F. Frist Foundation and Whole Foods Market. We also want to thank our patrons, live and silent auction donors and in-kind sponsors for supporting this annual fundraising event. We are grateful to you for believing in and supporting the important work of The Nashville Food Project. Click through the photos below to see the night's highlights.

Achaar - A Taste of Asia

We’ve reached that glorious time in Tennessee summers when tomatoes hang heavy from the vine, begging to be plucked and sliced or tossed into the mouth like candy when cherry-sized. 

It’s a time for BLTs and marinara sauces, tomato pies and fresh salsas.

But when we asked the farmers of Growing Together what to do with tomatoes for sampling at the Nashville Farmers’ Market, they suggested achaar.

Achaar, a tomato-based chutney popular in Bhutanese and Nepali cuisine, can be made in a variety of combinations that might include cilantro or mint, peppers and tomatoes. It’s often served alongside lentils and basmati rice, adding zap and zing to the meal. 

Since the Growing Together farmers also happen to grow arugula, we included the spicy green leaves with this version called Golbheda ko Achaar. Roasting the tomatoes deepens the entire dish with rich flavor. 

We paired samples of achaar with slices of baguette from Village Bakery & Provisions, a fantastic shop inside the Market House. And we’re happy to report that the little cups of spicy tomato flew off our table at the market. 

We hope you’ll visit the Growing Together farmers at their Nashville Farmers’ Market booth on Saturday, August 20 from 8am to 2:30pm.  We’ll send you home with a taste of achaar while supplies last—or at least some tomatoes and the recipe to make it at home.

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Golbheda ko Achaar (Tomato Chutney)

Makes about 4 servings

This dish is a favorite in Bhutanese and Nepali cultures, and it has many variations with mint or cilantro instead of arugula, for example. It’s generally served as an accompaniment to lentils and rice or bread. 

Ingredients:

Four medium-sized tomatoes or a couple handfuls of cherry tomatoes
Olive oil for baking dish and tomatoes
Salt and pepper to season plus 1 teaspoon for the arugula paste
A handful of arugula
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red chile flake
1/4 teaspoon of coriander
1/4 teaspoon cumin
Pinch of turmeric
Squeeze of fresh lime juice

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Oil a baking dish. Wash and half the larger tomatoes and lightly coat them in oil as well. Arrange the tomatoes in the baking dish in a single layer with their cut sides up and sprinkle lightly with salt. Roast the tomatoes until their skins are wrinkled and browning in places about 1 hour.

While the tomatoes roast, combine 1 teaspoon salt with arugula in a mortar and pestle. Crush the two ingredients together until a paste forms. (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can use the bottom of a clean jelly jar or coffee mug to grind ingredients on a cutting board.) 

Gently peel the skins from the tomatoes and combine the tomatoes with the arugula mixture and remaining spices. Taste and add a squeeze of lime juice or so to your liking. Adjust seasoning, if needed, and serve alongside lentils or curry dishes as a small side dish or flavorful condiment.

Adapted recipe from thegundruk.com

Celebrating Interdependence on Independence Day

It’s not every day that you get a request from a volunteer group for ideas for “something big” to partner on, but that’s just what happened with local restaurant group Strategic Hospitality

After volunteering a few times in our kitchen and gardens, they wanted to work with The Nashville Food Project to involve more of their staff in our work, and to make a splash in the community. Because Strategic Hospitality already has a community relationship with the veteran-services organization Operation Stand Down and because many Strategic Hospitality employees are veterans themselves, it was clear that an event in which their employees could interact with the veterans would be a great opportunity to build relationships over a community meal, especially this time of year as we were approaching the July 4th holiday. 

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Last Wednesday, our three organizations teamed up to host a special nearly-July 4th celebration with the Operation Stand Down veterans and the employees at Strategic Hospitality. The Nashville Food Project provided the meal, Operation Stand Down provided the space, and Strategic Hospitality provided fun games and activities!

The day started when Chef Jason Brumm, Strategic Hospitality’s Culinary Director, and his team arrived at our Woodmont kitchen and began preparing a hearty meal of chicken stir-fry loaded with vegetables over rice with Strategic Hospitality’s incredible cauliflower salad and a cookie donated from Christie Cookie Co. We led the chefs through the garden out back, where they snipped tons of fresh herbs to liven up the meal, and then they were off! 

At around 11:00AM, volunteers from American Legion Post 5 arrived to load up the food truck and share the meal. These veterans volunteer regularly on our trucks through FiftyForward’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), and it just so happened that their week fell during this great event to celebrate our vets.

By 11:30 the RSVP volunteers were ready to share this tasty meal with the veterans at Operation Stand Down, the surrounding community and the Strategic Hospitality employees. Looking through the crowd, it was clear that relationships were forming over this meal. All in all, this was a great event! Thanks to everyone who played a part.

Growing Safe Spaces for Community

When most people think about The Nashville Food Project’s gardens, they think about the food grown for use in the meals that we share in our community. Last year alone, our staff, with the help of hundreds of garden volunteers, harvested more than 4,000 pounds of organic produce from our gardens, all of which was incorporated into tens of thousands of healthy, made-from-scratch meals.

But what many don’t realize is that our gardens are also spaces where several communities are coming together in a common desire to grow good food and get to know one another better. Our gardens truly are their gardens—spaces where families and individuals can build connections with one another in beautiful spaces they can call their own.

We spent some time in the Wedgewood Urban Garden (WUG) the past few days and want to share stories from four different communities who come together there to grow food and deepen relationships, and create spaces of their own:

The Refuge

One Friday morning, we joined families from the Refugee Agricultural Program that we support alongside the Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee. We met with families from Bhutan and Burma who grow gardens at WUG. Having been displaced from their native countries, creating safe places is critical for these men and women, many of whom come from farming and agrarian backgrounds. Many of these families had never met one another until they began growing food at WUG, but they have now built a community that grows together and shares the fruits of their labor by exchanging vegetables, stories and life!

Volunteer Groups

While many of the refugee families were packing up on Friday morning, a group of religious studies students from Belmont University arrived at WUG to tour the garden and volunteer. Garden intern Nathaniel led the group around the garden beds, telling them about the incredible ecosystem that we have built there, including bees, chickens, pollinators and even goldfish! The students soaked up the information and then came together to pitch in and volunteer. Many remarked how interesting it was to see so many different aspects of urban agriculture - production gardens, community gardens, animal raising - all together in this one small place.

Harvest Hands

On Tuesday morning, the garden welcomed children from Harvest Hands for their weekly garden-based education activities. These activities get the kids engaged in the garden so they can learn about where their food comes from and the importance of making healthy decisions when they eat. This week, all-star food project volunteer Linda Bodfish taught the kids about plant families and how they share similar characteristics while also being different. They learned about kale, chard, lettuce and sorrel and experienced the tastes, textures and smells of these green leafy vegetables. Then they talked about the differences between fruits and vegetables and tasted their way through the lower garden.

Friends Life

As the Harvest Hands children left the garden, our Friends from Friends Life Community pulled in for their regular volunteer time at WUG. Friends Life Community is a nonprofit that serves the needs of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We’ve been lucky to have the Friends join us in the garden each week for service learning activities for years! There our Friends learn about gardening and food, and they help us in growing the food we include in our meals. Earlier this year, we began sharing meals with Friends Life, bringing it full circle for the participants in their programs. Now the Friends love their garden time even more because they get to enjoy all of the fresh food they’ve worked so hard to help grow.

Over the course of just two days, we watched in gratitude as each of these very different groups cultivated their own unique communities within the fences surrounding Wedgewood Urban Garden. We give thanks that these communities can come together in this safe space to learn about food, share cultural experiences and work towards their own goals. We welcome you to our gardens and invite you to do the same…

Nutrition Education - Strengthening our Relationships with Food & Each Other

by Kathleen Costello, AmeriCorps VISTA Nutrition Education Coordinator

Hello all! I joined The Nashville Food Project's staff earlier this year as a member of Americorps’ Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps (AHOC). AHOC places Americorps members at different organizations throughout the county that are committed to reducing hunger in their local community. 

My role at The Nashville Food Project involves creating nutrition education opportunities for several of TNFP’s community partners. These activities include inviting students to our kitchen to make healthy snacks, teaching hands-on cooking classes at summer camps, and leading food demonstrations with some of our community partner organizations. 

I just finished providing hands-on cooking sessions at the PENCIL Foundation’s summer camp. This two-week camp taught students about environmental issues such as pollution and water conservation through fun activities, speakers, and field trips. The Nashville Food Project provided lunch twice a week, and I got to lead the kids in cooking classes that had an environmental component. For one of our sessions, we made local “berry scones” with raspberries picked from our Wedgewood Urban Gardens. Besides being insanely delicious (I ate three) it gave students the opportunity to see how many miles non-local food travels compared to locally grown food. Just purchasing two local ingredients for this recipe—cream and raspberries—saved over 4,000 miles of food travel!

(For a peek at how far a non-local strawberry travels to get to a consumer, take a look at this great video from the Ad Council.)

Another nutrition class underway is at Nashville CARES, an organization that provides resources and support to people diagnosed with or at risk of contracting HIV. Every other Wednesday, I bring a hot, made-from-scratch lunch made by our volunteers, and I give a cooking demonstration for one of the meal components. I remember being so nervous for my first class…how would these strong individuals who are dealing with a serious immune disease going to react to this fidgety 20-something intern encouraging them to eat more vegetables? I was taught that the most important part of teaching is connecting with your students… but how could I connect with an audience so seemingly-different from me?

It turns out the answer was pasta salad. I asked about their favorite foods, and Margaret, a fiery grandmother with glittery fingernails, told me how she loves pasta salad, but wanted to learn some new ways to make it. I shared the first pasta salad recipe I’d ever made, someone else mentioned his mother’s go-to ingredient (Italian salad dressing) and the conversation rolled on from there. This week, per Margaret’s request, I’m going to show them how to make a pesto pasta salad made from carrot tops. I guess we aren’t so different after all.

Before my experience at The Nashville Food Project, I thought the most important part of being an educator was walking into the room with all of the answers. But the more time I spend with such amazing and unique individuals, the more I realize that my job is not to provide the right answers, but to ask the right questions. It’s about understanding people and what drives the food choices they make. It’s about working together to find out what the barriers are to making healthy choices, and how we can break those down and build new, healthier relationships with food and each other.

It most likely also involves a freshly baked scone and a killer pasta salad recipe. 

Sharing Food & Changing Lives With Two New Partners

The food truck is a somewhat iconic image in the history of The Nashville Food Project. Since our earliest days, we’ve been driving these trucks all over the city, delivering meals to those who need them. Before the hot meals, before the gardens, we had the trucks. Nearly every new volunteer or visitor we meet asks us “I’ve seen the food trucks, but where do they go? Who are these meals shared with?”

The way we share our meals truly is what makes The Nashville Food Project “us.” All of our meals are shared in collaboration with community partners that support the various communities we feed, and right now we are working with over 20 organizations to share hot, healthy meals and snacks in our city. As each partner is different, so is each meal service. Just looking at two of our newest partners, you can see the varied ways our meals are shared to support our community:

Preston Taylor Ministries at St. Luke’s Community House

You’ve probably heard that we’ve partnered with St. Luke’s Community House to open a second kitchen and provide daily meals for their preschool and senior mobile meals program, but you may not have heard that we’re also partnering with a St. Luke’s partner at St. Luke’s. 

Preston Taylor Ministries is the newest partner at St. Luke’s, facilitating the United Way Family Resource Center’s after-school and summer programming. As a site for the SPARK program (Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids), programming has an enhanced focus on promoting an active lifestyle. Twice each week, we provide healthy snacks for 85 kids. These snacks, along with the SPARK programming, are helping kids develop a healthier lifestyle, which has been shown to improve academic performance and behavior. We will soon begin a once monthly sit-down meals open to all Preston Taylor Ministries families and the surrounding neighborhood to develop stronger community and reduce the isolation so often accompanying poverty.

The Family Center

The Family Center prevents child abuse and neglect by empowering parents to raise happy, healthy children. The Nurturing Home Program serves Families First families in Davidson County with both group and in-home parenting sessions. 

The Nashville Food Project recently began providing a weekly family meal to support a Nurturing Home group session. Each week, a table topic accompanies the meal to introduce the evening’s session. For example, if Nurturing Home is covering Feelings and Building Empathy, the families begin the evening by sharing a meal and introducing themselves to the other group members and stating one feeling they had that day. This meal and discussion is helping to bring together participating children and parents for important support and sharing.  

Here at The Nashville Food Project, we know that nothing brings people together and breaks down walls quite like a good meal. These new partners show just a couple of ways that that is happening every day in our city. Poverty is a cycle that requires more than just food to break, and these partners are helping us do that by providing valuable programming that betters the lives of all those who come together over our meals.