Oh, the Places You'll Go

A simple ingredient - tomato, lettuce, carrots - can touch thousands of lives once it comes through the doors of TNFP. With every crop that we grow, and every meal that we make our ultimate goals are to alleviate hunger and build community. With such lofty goals it’s no wonder that hundreds of people are needed to make this a possibility, and, in return, thousands more are touched by the respect and love shared within their meal. In this blog we will follow the journey of one ingredient in our meals last week: big, beautiful, leafy kale. 

 Photo courtesy of Sweeter Days Farm

Photo courtesy of Sweeter Days Farm

With every meal, our goal is to support the community through a multifaceted approach. For this reason we love to grow produce in our gardens. But when that is not possible, our next favorite option is to buy local, naturally-grown foods from other community members. Our meals team is working on a new program to purchase "2nds" from farmers in the hopes of decreasing the waste from our city's food stream by diverting into our meals. This week, we purchased three bins of kale from Sweeter Days Farm to use for the entire week in our South Hall Kitchen. The kale was pulled to make room for new crops and would have otherwise been thrown away.


Our meals team works hard to come up with a plan to use every bit of food that comes our way, and that requires a lot of help. TNFP Intern Kate helped wash and cut the kale for a salad. Kate is a part of Lipscomb University’s IDEAL Program which is a two-year certificate program designed to support students with intellectual or developmental disability. Students in this program take classes, participate in internships, and enjoy the college experience. At TNFP Kate provides assistance in the South Hall kitchen. “I wash fruit, cut up fruit for salad, help prep cookies, vegetables, and snacks.” Kate does much more than help with meal prep. She brings a level of energy and enthusiasm that is passed to everyone working alongside her which helps make the finished product like kale salad that much more incredible.


Although a kale salad always hits the spot, we like to get creative with our meals and use the ingredients that are available. TNFP volunteer cook Shellye and her team prepared a strata with the kale, other veggies, and ham. Almost every meal that comes from the South Hall kitchen is prepared by volunteer cook teams. Shellye explains why she committed to volunteering at TNFP as a regular cook. “I’ve been volunteering here for five years, and I really enjoy the camaraderie of cooking with others and meeting a need to feed healthy food to people who really need it.”

 Paula (center) serving kale salad at John Glenn & Peggy Ann Residential Housing.

Paula (center) serving kale salad at John Glenn & Peggy Ann Residential Housing.

When it comes to sharing food, the purpose is not simply to serve a meal but rather to make connections, meet our neighbors, and find commonalities. Long time volunteer Paula and a group of new volunteers served the meal, complete with kale salad, at John Glenn & Peggy Ann Residential Housing. As a volunteer for over five years she has volunteered in almost every role at TNFP with her family. “I love the mission of bringing good food to people who need it. Food is a common denominator. I like to serve meals in my own home and bring a little bit of home to people who may not have it right now. It's rewarding to serve food.“


The last stop on our journey is in the hands, hearts, and bellies of the people with whom we share our meals. John L Glenn and Peggy Ann are residential centers in North Nashville run by National Church Residences, an agency that provides affordable housing for low-income seniors. TNFP serves 60 hot meals to residents here each week. Victoria at John Glenn and Peggy Ann Residential Housing says “The food has been really, really good and the [volunteer] servers are kind, generous and considerate. It’s a blessing and we look forward to it every week!” When we talked several residents were sitting around a table with their food chatting with each other, visiting with family, and talking to volunteers.

Food is a common denominator.
— Paula

Something so small as a few bins of kale can truly make an impact on hundreds of people when communities are so tightly woven. Each person in Nashville is connected in a powerful way, and though it may not be a connection that is seen at all times, it's there. As Paula mentioned before “food is a common denominator.” And in this story the denominator was kale.

For Everyone Born

Reflection by TNFP's Office Coordinator, Elizabeth Langgle-Martin

"For everyone born, a place at the table; for everyone born, clean water and bread, a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing; for everyone born, a star over head." - Shirley Erena Murray

Lately, I’ve heard a lot of discussions surrounding the proposed changes to the existing SNAP program. If you’ve been on social media or even scanned the news, you most likely have caught wind of the conversation.

First of all, what is SNAP, and who does it serve? SNAP (Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program) was formerly known as the food stamp program. SNAP is the federal benefit with which families around the United States purchase food items from grocery stores and farmers’ markets. The USDA reports that two thirds of SNAP participants last year were children, elderly, or had a disability. In January of 2018, 81,809 individuals in Davidson County alone received SNAP assistance. Currently, eligible individuals or families receive their approved amount of funds each month directly to a debit-style benefit card. The allotted amount can be spent on eligible food items from participating vendors. The average amount of the benefit tends to be about $1.52 per eligible person per meal.

Recent proposed changes suggest eliminating the debit type card which allows participants to choose ingredients and construct meals like non-participating families. These benefits would be replaced, at least in part, with a monthly government issued box of non-perishable staples. Reports suggest that these boxes would include items such peanut butter, pastas, and canned vegetables.

These proposed changes have The Nashville Food Project team actively thinking and talking about why we believe access to fresh foods and freedom of choice when thinking about food is essential to effectively supporting the families that rely on SNAP to supplement their grocery budgets and make ends meet.  

Here are some of our reflections on what we believe are essential components to good food support:

Access to fresh foods  

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We believe that all people deserve access to fresh, nutritious food. Take a look at TNFP’s vision statement: “The Nashville Food Project embraces a vision of vibrant community food security in which everyone in Nashville has access to the food they want and need through a just and sustainable food system.” We believe that a just and sustainable system means families having access to foods that haven’t undergone extensive processing, foods that contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Fresh lettuce, ripe tomatoes, and peaches that aren’t drowning in heavy syrup shouldn’t be considered the food of the elite.

Self-Determination and Dignity


Years of working with individuals who are straddling the poverty line has taught me that people are the experts of their own experience. The most resilient folks I have known are people who manage to grow riverside food gardens while living in a tent or who hand deliver a birthday card after spending the night sleeping on a church stoop. In college, one of my professors once said that if someone’s situation or struggle was simple, they would have already figured it out themselves.

Poverty is the result of complex systems, years of discrimination, resource access issues, and income inequality. Removing everyday choices and elements of self-determination from SNAP participants inherently suggests that their experience of poverty is purely the result of a personal failing, a failing so great that they now require someone who hasn’t struggled in the same way to tell them what is or is not acceptable to purchase, prepare, and serve to their families. Many families already feel an element of shame for needing to utilize a supplemental program, but to remove the ability to shop alongside non-participating families would further alienate already marginalized groups of people.

Value of Cultural Identity

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Do you have a favorite holiday dish that your grandmother made or a cake that your family bakes for every birthday? Many of us were raised with meals and recipes passed down for generations. However, traditional meals for a new American family from Burma might look very different from someone raised in urban areas of Chicago, which would vary greatly from meals prepared in New Orleans.

Food is deeply personal and tied to who we are and where we are from. We create traditions utilizing food and share who we are with others through its preparation. When freedom of choice is eliminated from the foods we eat and replaced with “cookie cutter options,” we discount the way that culture and tradition influence our eating habits and vice versa. We believe that limiting control over one’s own food choices, choices that reflect one’s tastes and traditions, would render a serious flaw in any type of nutrition assistance program.

While SNAP isn’t a perfect program in its current state, it’s essential that any changes to the program serve to increase participants’ access to a variety of fresh foods and allow for food choices that reflect the nutritional and cultural needs of each participant. Without these, any program would be a step backward.

Obviously, SNAP is not the only way to increase access to fresh, nutritious foods for families in need. Here are a few things you can do to help support and increase in fresh, nutritious food for families experiencing food instability:

1.       Share extra fresh produce from your gardens with a local food bank (or if you are in the Nashville area, with The Nashville Food Project, of course)!

2.       Support community gardening initiatives which increase land access for under-resourced neighbors to grow their own food.

3.       Help de-stigmatize nutrition assistance programs such as SNAP by sharing factual, well researched information. Here is a good starting point to learn more.

Most importantly, we must remember that there is enough. It’s easy to fall into a mindset of scarcity. However, it’s essential to recall that 40% of the food produced in the United States goes to waste. There is plenty of food to meet the needs of all people and plenty of room at the table. 


Small Seeds, Big Lessons


I met Bridget on a bright, sunny day. Like most conversations in Nashville the weather was the first thing we talked about. It wasn’t a topic to break an awkward silence, rather Bridget was enthusiastically sharing that she was hoping for a few more weeks of winter. She explained that some of her seeds need cold weather when they are planted in order to flourish so she’s hoping the sunshine will hold off for a few more weeks. This is just one of the many lessons that Bridget has learned in her time as a community gardener at Wedgewood Urban Garden.

Bridget grew up helping her grandfather in his garden. She enjoyed helping him harvest black eyed peas and picking flowers with her grandmother. However, she says that her community garden was the first growing space that she was able to call her own. I asked Bridget to explain how being a community gardener over the past four years has impacted her life and she shared her life lessons with me.

Treat the earth right and it will return the favor

Growing a plant is a simple balance of water, soil, and sunlight but it takes time and attention. Being in tune to the needs of plants and patiently watching them grow gives you an appreciation to how delicate the act of growing is.

I pay attention more to nature and gardening has made me appreciate it on a whole other level.

When you give the earth and plants what they need they will give the same back. Last year Bridget grew enough produce to make a meal every day. Even last week she made a dinner with bell peppers that she harvested and stored last summer.

Don’t be afraid to try new and different things

Christina Bentrup, former TNFP Garden Director, spent time with Bridget in the garden probing her to try new things. “She would say ‘try this’ and eat something right off the vine! I’ve learned that from her.” This was the first step in her trying new things - she seeks new vegetables for her garden, like kiwano and squash, and grows them using trial and error. This process has been a gateway to Bridget’s personal growth.

Now, I’m not afraid to try bigger things in life. What could be the worst thing to happen? You fail. Then you try again. If you don’t want to try again then you keep moving.

Don’t judge a plant by its foliage

Bridget’s favorite addition to her garden is kiwano, an African jelly cucumber. It took a long time to grow with an abundance of leaves but no fruit in sight. While preparing to pull the plant from the ground she was surprised with several cucumbers tucked under the fence. Unlike local varieties that soak up the sun, these cucumbers were hiding beneath a plethora of leaves. The taste and texture of the plant was equally unexpected. “It was interesting to see people’s reactions to how [kiwanos] look. They look like a weapon but you cut it open and it’s so opposite of its hard and thorny exterior...[It’s] soft and gooey on the inside.” It was so tasty that Bridget is growing it again!


Share what you learn

Growing a garden has pushed her toward healthy eating. “It feels good to eat what you grow, I know what I’m putting in my body.” Bridget has started a chain reaction in her community. She sells and shares her vegetables with community members, co-workers and friends and created Zysis Speaks, a blog sharing tips for gardeners growing in small spaces. She has seen the impact that her produce has made with others. “Last year I grew spaghetti squash and posted live videos, pictures, and info about how to cook it. The next thing you know someone else posted their pictures showing that they did it, too. If I hadn’t grown it I probably would have never tried spaghetti squash.”

Find your roots

The connection of growing her own plants has led to healthy changes in eating and appreciating the beauty of nature.

When you go to a grocery store and buy a flower there’s not a connection.
There’s not a part of you in that plant. But if I’ve touched a plant,
a part of me is in that plant.

In her garden she has also developed a new connection to her grandparents and ancestors who had a farming background. “Now I can understand why my grandfather planted black eyed peas. I also think of my grandma out there picking peas when I’m here in the soil and the dirt.”


Reach for the sun

Bridget noticed that some seedlings were growing tall and skinny, and she wondered why. She learned that when plants are not getting the sunlight that they need to grow they will elongate towards the sun.

“[The plant] will reach to get where it wants to be. If plants can overcome their struggles so can I.”

For more tips and information, view Bridget’s blog Zysis Speaks or follow her Facebook page. If you are interested in signing up for a community garden plot at McGruder Family Resource Center or Wedgewood Urban Garden please submit an application at bitly.com/tnfpgardenapp.

Introducing Children to New Foods


If you’re looking for ways to get kids to try new and nutritious foods… we are right there with you! Through our meals program, The Nashville Food Project serves nutritious meals and snacks to about 370 different children each week across a number of sites. Our meals team works hard to pack our menus with fresh and nutritionally-dense ingredients -- especially fruits and vegetables. At the same time, we’re giving equal priority to ensuring these meals are culturally appropriate and, of course, delicious. As you can imagine, finding menus that meet all these parameters can be a challenge, especially with often-times picky kids! Here’s some of what we’ve learned about introducing new foods to children.


Start early. If you can, introducing a variety of foods to kids at a young age goes a long way. We see this difference in the kids we’ve been serving from a younger age - offering them new fruits and vegetables daily. By the time they’re older, they’ve seen these foods so many times that it’s become familiar.


Exposure and persistence. Repetition is vital to introducing a child to new foods, and what they’re willing to try can change through different stages of development. Toddlers often like a new food after trying it 5-10 times. Kids aged 3-4 may need to try it 15 times or more. All to say… keep at it! It’s a process.

Make it fun. How you present the food definitely affects how the kids react. If you’re excited, the children will mirror your excitement and follow your lead. Sometimes kids are turned off by the look of a new food, so try different, fun presentations. We have a lot of fun turning healthy snacks into fun animals and characters, and the kids love it!

Don’t force it.  Negative reactions to new foods is totally normal! Kids may use food as a way to control their environment because they don’t have a lot of other choices they get to make for themselves. When you can, focus on giving options and encouraging trying new things.


Try different flavors and preparations. If they don’t like a vegetable one way, try a different seasoning or a different way of preparing it. We often try more nutritious takes on foods that are familiar and comforting, like a greek-yogurt based salad dressing instead of ranch.

Balance. If you’re introducing a food you know will be unfamiliar and challenging, offer it alongside a familiar favorite. Or chop up vegetables and incorporate into dishes that are already favorites (for example, adding sauteed squash to a marinara sauce).

Connect to the source of the food. Many studies show when children interact with and understand the source of the food they’re eating, they’re more excited to try it. We’ve seen this first-hand hosting groups in our gardens and our kitchens. Get your kids more involved in growing and preparing the food the eat, and they’ll definitely get more excited to try the fruits of their labor (pun intended).

What are your tips and tricks for getting kids to try new foods?


Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat


At The Nashville Food Project, we are continually looking for opportunities to learn from and with one another as we go about our work. So it’s not surprising that some of our staff and volunteers decided to read and get together to discuss a book on the elements of good cooking: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. And, of course, it’s been a great reason to get together and share a meal!

Our review? Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is your gateway to being able to cook without a recipe! It breaks down the processes that take place in your kitchen every single day, making it so easy to understand what is happening with your food and why. With it's beautiful illustrations and straightforward explanations, it's a quick and interesting read that will change the way you think about cooking -- and the way your food tastes -- through use of four elements (you guessed it!): Salt, Fat, Acid, and Heat. It also has an incredible index filled with kitchen basics, cooking how-tos, and recipes.

Here’s some of the things we took away from each chapter:

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“The thing that has been the biggest takeaway for me is the idea of salting from within. Whether salting pasta water, creating osmosis in boiling veggies or denaturing meat by salting early before cooking, salt plays such a vital role and has many dynamic qualities in all of its uses. My food is forever changed!” - David, St. Luke’s Meals Manager


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“Find an olive oil you love, store it out of the light and heat, pay attention to the production date, and use it quickly (because it doesn’t take long for it to go rancid!). I also learned you’re should heat your pan first and then add your oil.  You can test with a drip of water for pan readiness.” - Cheri, Volunteer


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“I learned the most in the acid chapter.  The other 3 elements are all things that I consistently taste and adjust for but learning to taste for acid has improved my cooking immensely! I've been adding splashes of vinegars, lemon juice & even wine more frequently and love the results.” - Christa, Meals Director



“Look at the food, not at the heat source! That means looking for sensory cues (sizzles, spatters, steam, browning…) rather than obeying a set time at a certain temperature. I always thought about heat in cooking as the oven or the burner, but also learned to pay attention to the temperature of the food itself.” - Grace, Impact Manager


Have you read it? Tell us what you think!

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Learning as a Collaborative Community: Garden Trainings


Though the days are short and the winter air is cold, gardeners are planning and training for the growing season ahead.

Wednesday morning we arrived at Hillcrest United Methodist Church and followed the signs to the room where Growing Together winter trainings take place. Esther was the first farmer to arrive -- true to her punctual nature. Esther and her husband Thomas have been in the program since its inception in 2013. Both arrived to the US as refugees from Burma and found a new home in Nashville. Thomas has a background in farming and agriculture from his roots in Burma. Over their time in Nashville he’s shared his knowledge with Esther and she too is now a highly skilled farmer and Growing Together veteran. As each farmer walks through the doors the room becomes a space for learning, sharing, and building.

We are At-Once Both Students and Teachers


At TNFP we believe that every person has wisdom to share and lessons to learn. We can learn from the experiences of others if given the opportunity to listen. This value is foundational to the design of both TNFP’s community garden program and market garden program, Growing Together. Beyond simply providing access to land, these programs facilitate space for knowledge-sharing through regular trainings. From the moment the gardens close in October, TNFP program staff are planning the trainings for Growing Together farmers and community gardeners. These trainings officially began in January for the Growing Together program and the New American community gardens.

Both programs work with community members who originally came to the US as refugees from Burma and Bhutan and who have agrarian backgrounds of varying degrees. For some, they began farming in childhood growing the vegetables that were used in family meals. For others, they grew crops in the hopes of selling them in the markets and to make a living.

Growing Together: Sharing Knowledge for Collective Success 


The Nashville Food Project's agriculture training program Growing Together is designed to expand access and opportunity to people from agrarian backgrounds. Through our program, farmers gain access to land, inputs, seeds and training, and continue to build upon their farming skills and earn supplemental income though the sale of their produce.

You may be wondering -- if the farmers and gardeners have such a deep founded knowledge of farming, why do they need trainings? These trainings aren’t about one “expert” conveying knowledge to a group. Instead, these programs create a multi-generational space for community building and knowledge sharing. Our Growing Together Program Manager, Sally Rausch, shares, “This is a collective project, and part of the training is how people work collectively using the same resources. The trainings offer both opportunities and relationship building so they can be a successful collective.”


Through end-of-season interviews the farmers expressed that they wanted more marketing outlets and to improve their sales. This feedback has been heavily incorporated into this year’s trainings. The trainings will cover topics like marketing outlets, customer preferences, and planning crops so that they will be at peak harvest quality for customers looking for their unique crops. At the most recent training, farmers were asked to share what sold the best at the Richland Farmers’ Market and what items didn’t sell as well. Then they planned out what crops they wanted to sell through the farmers market, Nashville Grown, and through a new CSA program that the farmers are piloting this year. By working together and sharing feedback, farmers are learning how to best plan and sell their crops through individual outlets as well as through their collective outlets as a group.

During the training sessions, the lines of student and teacher are blurred. Each gardener and farmer has a plethora of knowledge to share. After three training sessions Sally mentions “Gosh... I’ve already learned so much from the farmers. It’s my goal to have the trainings be an interactive experiential classroom where we are all learning from each other. I want to get to know the farmers and learn about their perspective and experience because they know how to grow really high quality produce… I think about my job as, ‘How can we integrate that valuable experience into the trainings to go even deeper and support the farmers in being more successful?’”

Community Gardens: Building a Foundation through Past Experiences


TNFP's community garden program facilitates three community garden sites across Nashville, providing access to land, supplies, and ongoing training. There are two New American community gardens, with these spaces held for Bhutanese and Burmese community members of any skill level. These sites begin trainings in January with the growing season kicking off in March. There are two neighborhood community gardens in North Nashville and Wedgewood Houston. These sites start trainings during the growing season with plots open to neighbors.

The New American community garden training is more comprehensive covering topics that all gardeners should know to succeed like what crops grow best in Nashville and when they should be planted. The purpose of these trainings are to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Similarly to the Growing Together program the topics are chosen based on gardner feedback during end of season evaluations and challenges in the previous seasons. Our Community Garden Manager, Kia Brown, explains, “In the past there has been a difficulty in understanding the irrigation system that we use. This year as a planning stage we are going in depth on how the system works, how to fix it, and how to plan crops so that they work best with it.” In this scenario Kia observed that the gardeners’ traditional farming methods did not work with the irrigation system offered last year. To overcome a problem that so many struggled with she has planned an in-depth training on irrigation.


In all TNFP programs there is an opportunity for everyone involved to be both teachers and learners and create a flow of knowledge sharing. Kia shares that she wants to explore the three sisters planting method. In this method each plant has a purpose - corn is used as a trellis for pole beans and squash is planted at the base to reduce weeds. Kia says, “it uses a comprehensive system where everything grows and dies at the right time all while something else is taking place. It’s something I’ve learned from the gardeners and that I am still learning about.”

TNFP garden training programs allow gardeners to expand on the skills they already have and learn from the trial-and-error of others while also gaining the opportunity to be introduced to new farming methods and tools that may bring them success. Garden trainings are a space created for all involved to learn and grow from one another embodying our value of learning. For more information about our garden programs please visit our website.

Shrimp and Grits Recipe

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This classic, Southern favorite is a crowd-pleaser here at TNFP! 


Serves 8


  • 8 cups water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups stone-ground grits
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 6 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (or any cheese - we used a blend of cheddar and parmesan)
  • 2 pounds shrimp, peeled and de-veined
  • 2-3 TBSP BBQ rub or Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced



Bring water to a boil. Add salt and pepper. Add grits and cook until water is absorbed, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter and cheese.

Rinse shrimp and pat dry.  Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add shrimp and cook until shrimp turn pink. Add lemon juice, parsley, onions, garlic, and seasonings. Saute for 3-5 minutes.

Spoon grits into a serving bowl. Add shrimp mixture and mix well. Enjoy! 


Adapted from this food network recipe.

Food is Comfort


The statistics of domestic violence in our country are staggering. One in four women in the U.S. experiences intimate partner violence in her lifetime. Approximately 15.5 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year. And in our own community, The Metro Nashville Police Department received over 26,600 reports of domestic violence in 2014 - that’s one report every 20 minutes.

In January 2017, we began a partnership with the YWCA, providing weekday dinners for their Weaver Domestic Violence Center. This 51-bed shelter is the largest domestic violence shelter in Tennessee, providing a safe space for women and children escaping domestic violence (men are housed at another partner facility).

“The women, the children, our staff - anyone who walk through these walls - deserves a clean, welcoming, healthy place,” says Laura Clark, the Residential Coordinator at the shelter for the past 17 years.

The YWCA empowers domestic violence survivors to take control of their lives, while offering them safety and the resources to ensure their self-sufficiency. The YWCA’s programs are designed to empower women and offer opportunities for self-determination in every area of life, including the design of their food program at the shelter.

Food is so powerful...And sometimes the women couldn’t eat what they wanted. They couldn’t buy what they wanted. Everything was locked up. Everything was centered around the control of their abuser.
— Laura Clark

In contrast, the two kitchens at the shelter are stocked with pantry items and ingredients for the women and families to have access on their own schedule. They have spaces for any of their personal food, and can add requests for spices or other pantry items to a community shopping list.

"At first when they talked about having (TNFP) I didn’t know exactly what it was – they started and thought, ‘Oh my gosh - I don’t know why we couldn’t have found you all years ago!’"

The dinner meal at the shelter, provided by TNFP, is advertised to start early evening, but the women can come at whatever time works for their schedule. “Many of the women work, have school, and are taking care of their kids. When they come here, we want to offer at least one good meal a day – which is (TNFP),” Laura tells us.  “Food is comforting. And our goal is to make sure they’re fed and they’re taken care of – it’s just one less thing to worry about.”

When asked about how the food has been received, Laura shared, “I have seen positive impacts. Some of the women have never eaten like this. It’s healthy, and it’s flavors that you don’t get just anywhere - even in the restaurants,” she adds, smiling.

This is a different way of life for a lot of these women and kids. And I’ve seen a difference. I’ve seen a difference in people and the way they eat.

And of course, this is just one small piece of the much broader impact of the YWCA’s work. In 2016, the YWCA served 453 adults and children at the Weaver Domestic Violence Center, providing not just a safe space, but also case management, safety planning, support groups, and counseling.

We are so grateful to be a partner with the YWCA in this important work! Learn more about the YWCA’s mission and programs on their website.

Nothing Wasted: Summer Gardens

Every fall, when we start to feel that first nip in the air, it signals that it’s time to close our summer gardens. While we’re still planting heartier winter crops during these colder months, we do have to harvest all those spring and summer crops still left at the end of the season. It’s a time we look forward to around here, a time when we get our creative juices flowing to come with new ways to save and use what’s left in our gardens.


This time of year, the most common things left in our gardens are herbs, peppers, eggplant and green tomatoes. For the peppers, we like to dry them with ristras, and use the dried peppers in all sorts of different recipes. To use up the other veggies, we love making eggplant parmesan, salsa verde and stuffed peppers. Most of these freeze well so you can enjoy them long into the winter.

The herbs, though, let us get really creative! We like to dry them in our dehydrator and use them in tons of handmade products that we sell around the holidays at our now annual event Scratch Made. We make a number of teas, herb-blended salts, simple syrups and more.

Here are some of our favorites and things you can expect to see at this year’s Scratch Made:


Herbal tea blends: We love a good tea around here! Some of our favorite tea-making herbs are stinging nettle, peppermint and lemon balm. At this year’s Scratch Made, you’ll find tea blends for women’s health, relaxation, general health and a yummy one just to brighten your day.


Herbed salt blends: These are always a crowd pleaser. This year, we’re bringing back favorites like dill salt, gomasio and our Italian blend with rosemary, parsley, thyme, tarragon and oregano. New this year, you can buy hand-made za’atar and a zesty lime salt.


Simple syrups: Flavor-infused imple syrups are great for adding to coffees and cocktails. This year we’ll offer ginger, rosemary, jalepeno, turmeric and lavender simple syrups.


Salve and lip balm: Don’t forget the bees! We always love making products that make use of beeswax from our bee hives. This year we’ll have the popular comfrey wound salve and an all-natural lip balm.

This year we’ve added a new product: fermented hot sauce. We used lots of hot peppers grown by the Growing Together farmers to make this delicious sauce that we’re excited to share with you. If you want to make your own, here’s our recipe:



1 cup hot peppers, washed and stemmed (about 6 medium-sized peppers), we used jalapeno, serrano and cayenne peppers
1-1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp sugar, optional
1 tbsp whey
White vinegar to taste


Place hot pepper, whey, salt, sugar and enough water to cover in a jar, and seal. Place har in a warm place (around 70 degrees is optimal). Over the next 3-5 days, gently agitate the jar 1-2 times a day. You’ll notice the brine will become cloudy.

Blitz the peppers and seeds in a blender or food processor. Be careful not to splash. A well-ventilated area is best for this. Pour the puree into a jar. Add white vinegar to taste. Store in the refrigerator. This will keep for several months.


Rhythm in the Kitchen

It’s a rainy and foggy Friday Nashville morning. The day brightens as I enter The Nashville Food Project kitchen, greeted by committed volunteers, Joyce and Marirae. The space is full of joy. On the menu: fish tacos, slaw, and sweet potatoes.


Every Friday, Joyce and Marirae work together to cook a meal to share with the residents of Vine Hill. One would think this pair has known each other since college, but after talking to them, you learn that their story starts here, in the TNFP Kitchen. 

Joyce: Marirae and I met right here in the kitchen at TNFP when it was called Mobile Loaves and Fishes. We met about 6 years ago.

Over the years, the two have had various others join them on the weekly Friday morning cook sessions. Now, Joyce and Marirae cook together every single week and deliver that meal at least once a month. 

The stories of how they joined the TNFP family are different, yet still bring them together for the weekly cook time:

Marirae: My story’s a bit funny. I joined a group of “food people.” One of them had a party at their house. I noticed a letter addressed to Mobile Loaves and Fishes (ML&F). I kept seeing the trucks and thought, “I want to do that”. After asking around, someone put me in touch with Tallu, and I began volunteering! In the meantime, this transitioned from ML&F to TNFP. 

Joyce: I go to church at Woodmont Christian. After retiring from my regular day job, I had some free time and knew I wanted to volunteer here and work. I talked to Tallu about it, and here I am. 


The kitchen gets warmer as the sound of sizzling oil in the pan starts to fills the room. When Joyce and Marirae are not at TNFP, they are very busy running their own businesses. Joyce is self-employed in accounting and rental management while Marirae is a personal chef that cooks and delivers healthy food. They make the weekly commitment to serve others in spite of their busy lives. 

So I asked them: What is it that brings you back? What is your favorite thing about TNFP?

Joyce: My favorite thing about TNFP is working with Marirae.

Marirae: Working with Joyce, and I love the vibe. I love feeding healthy food to people instead of “junk.”  I love Tallu’s good spirit, and everyone that works here is kind.

As the meal progresses, I watch the two move around the kitchen, working seamlessly to complete the meal in time. There is a calming flow to them that allows me to interview them all without being in the way. They begin putting the fish tacos together. 

 According to the pair, they “party like rock stars” when they have free time. They go on double dates with their husbands, go out to lunch, dinner, and see each other a lot. In fact, during the interview, the pair made lunch plans for that day!


Watching their cooking rhythm is mesmerizing so I asked “If you describe your cooking rhythm in a music genre, what would it be? Could it be fast like Hip Hop or slow yet upbeat like Jazz?”

Marirae: We have comedic rhythm.

Joyce: We laugh a lot.

Marirae: And I swear a lot! 

Laughter and the sizzling of the tortillas continue throughout the small kitchen as I leave. Joyce and Marirae continue cooking, as they have done together the past several years. The happiness within their friendship is evident, and anyone that enters the kitchen can feel the joy. It’s enlightening to learn of a relationship that began at this organization and has been cultivated ever since. We could all stand to be a little bit more like these two.

We All Need Something

For the past few school years, the seventh and eighth graders at Abintra Montessori School have been filling our prep room each month. There the students clean and chop vegetables, assemble sandwiches and snacks, and put together beautiful fruit salads while listening to fun tunes with our staff. It’s a partnership that we have grown to love and one that we’re proud to hear is essential to the education of Abintra students.

“Volunteering is an integral part of our curriculum,” Abintra Middle School Guide Kim Blevins-Relleva tells us. “We’re trying to teach students to think critically about the world.”

She explains that there is a social justice component to Abintra’s educational philosophy, teaching the students that what they do in the community matters just as what they learn in the classroom matters in their daily lives. 

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Abintra looks at volunteerism as so much more than an opportunity for students to feel better about themselves, but an opportunity to make a positive contribution. 

“We believe that access to food should be a basic human right, but it really is a privilege here in our community,” Kim tells us. She says that food insecurity is a reality that many Abintra students struggle to relate to so it’s that much more important for them to realize the impact of the work they do in The Nashville Food Project kitchen. Each time the students help with meal prep, they look at our meal partner map to learn more about where the food is going and the work it is supporting.

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In our kitchen, the students get so much more than a fun volunteer activity. “They enjoy being entrusted to do jobs that typically adults would do - cooking and chopping. At The Nashville Food Project, they’re treated with respect by the staff, and they get to see the final product of what they’ve created,” Kim explains.

Kim tells us that the school tried many different organizations before settling on The Nashville Food Project as the regular volunteer partner for their middle school. They looked for an experience that taught their students that we all need each other in some way. “No matter who you are or what your life circumstance may be, we all need help.” 

Here at The Nashville Food Project, they found a similar philosophy that blurs the lines between giver and receiver, one in which we recognize our interdependence and our shared basic needs. 

Having the Abintra students in our kitchen has become something we look forward to as each school year nears. They’ve just rejoined us this month, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome them back.

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Learning Together

We often say that food has the power to transform lives, and we see this so clearly in our Growing Together program. Growing Together is The Nashville Food Project’s agricultural micro-enterprise training program. Through it, we work to expand farming access and opportunity to a group of growers who are originally from Burma and Bhutan. Through the program, farmers gain access to land, seeds, training and collective sales outlets, supporting them as they grow food to sell and earn supplemental income for their families.

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While food is the tool of Growing Together, education and transformation are the results of the program, for both The Nashville Food Project and the participating farmers. Not only do the farmers learn important skills from our staff, but they learn from each other, and we learn from them! We recently sat down with one of these farmers, Chandra Paudel, to talk about what he has learned and what he has shared with others by participating in this program.

Chandra, like the other Growing Together participants, worked as a farmer in his native country of Bhutan. While he began the program with vast farming knowledge, he tells us that he has enjoyed building upon that knowledge. 


“This year I learned about how to look for pests and control them,” he says, adding that he has also “Continued to build on the bed preparation skills.” 

Growing Together Program Manager Lauren Bailey can attest to that. “Chandra’s plot is meticulous; the time and care that he devotes to tending his plot is unmistakable.” 


Chandra says that in addition to honing his farming skills, he has also learned more about budgeting, record keeping and crop production planning. On one Saturday each month you can see him at the Growing Together booth at the Richland Park Farmers’ Market. There Chandra is able to interact directly with his customers, showing them new types of produce not often grown in Middle Tennessee, while gaining the skills and knowledge necessary to grow for and sell at market. 

Lauren tells us that Chandra manages his household and his plot, while also working as a paid leader of the Growing Together community, giving him added responsibility of upkeep of the common areas on the farm. 


“Chandra shares so much with the community of growers and the staff,” she tells us. Lauren explains that Chandra truly is a leader in his Growing Together community. “He embodies this leadership in his willingness to take on new techniques and apply information that staff share in trainings and meetings. I think of him as an “idea champion”. If staff suggests a certain pest control practice or harvesting tip, he is often the first to positively respond with an eager nod.”

Growing Together is strengthened by Chandra and farmers like him, who enrich the practice by sharing of themselves. The reality of community-shared farmland can often be messy and unpredictable, but this incredible community makes it work with their willingness to learn with us and one another.


Supporting Academic Perseverance Through Food

Earlier this month we sat down with one of our meal partners, Preston Taylor Ministries, to learn more about their program and how they are using The Nashville Food Project's food to support their work to education and instill students with academic perseverance.


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Tell me a little about your organization and specifically the program that is supported with TNFP food.

Preston Taylor Ministries has been operating for 19 years. Next year will be our twentieth year. We have seven elementary and middle school sites that we partner with throughout the 37209 zip code. We own one of the buildings that we run programming from, but the majority are partnerships with other organizations. We really try to have a presence in the footprint that exists in the neighborhood. 

We try to be that school-home-afterschool connection to close those gaps. Here at St. Luke’s Community House we are a K-8 program so we actually have two programs running simultaneously: a K-4 elementary school program and a 5-8 middle school program. 

What’s the specific program that you run here at St. Luke’s Community House?

Our primary feeder school for elementary is Cockrill Elementary. We’ve worked out a transportation system with Metro Nashville, and they bus those students directly here, which is great. Of the 35 elementary school students that come, probably 25 of them are all Cockrill students. Other feeder schools are Charlotte Park Elementary, Eakin Elementary and Gower Elementary. For our middle school program, our primary feeder school is Nashville Prep. That’s a charter school that is a block away. Probably 28 of the 35 middle schoolers come from there, and they walk here. 

We’re after-school from around 3:30 to 5:30, and our primary mission is “Joy-filled friendships, Christ-centered atmosphere, and a love for learning.”

We are in an air conditioned gym, and we take full advantage of that. Our program consists of physical education, academics, reading intervention and chapel time. We have a total of 70 students that rotate…

Wow! That’s a lot of kids.

Yeah, it doesn’t feel like it. When you get it down to everyone knowing where they’re supposed to be, it’s manageable. You’ve just got to trust me on that!

That’s such a great focus on filling the gaps to create a holistic experience. One of The Nashville Food Project’s primary goals is filling gaps for our partners, supporting their work that is breaking cycles of poverty. Education seems so important in that work. How are you all working in the education space?

Our goal when it comes to education and academics is really what we call “academic perseverance.” We know that in the 25 minutes we have for homework help in a two hour after-school program, it’s very difficult for us to increase a grade level. What we can do is use all of the two hours that we have with those students to build an atmosphere and a mindset of perseverance and follow-through, doing hard things and doing the next, right thing. That carries over into the academic pieces of our program. So that’s really our first approach - understanding that we’re creating a framework of perseverance in everything that we do. 

Then, we have a reading intervention piece. We know that in K through third grade, students are learning to read. In grades fourth through eighth, students are reading to learn. In those latter years, we know that most of the information they intake academically will be through reading comprehension so that becomes our focus. As they become better readers, they become better learners. There are things that we have to do in that third rotation that revolve around giving that student a better chance at focus and concentration, breaking barriers of distraction. Food is a big part of that.

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Why do you think that offering food alongside this program is important? How does it support the work?

When I say the word food, what I mean is healthy, nutritional snacking. We don’t want to give our students anything that then steals their energy, ability to focus and ability to concentrate. What we want to give them is food that’s going to support the next hard thing that they have to do. 

We’re always looking for ways to introduce healthy snacks with the mindset that Cheetos are going to keep you from wanting to do your homework, but hummus and carrots are going to energize you and give you the brain power that you need to be able to do that next hard thing, which might be math. That’s the approach that we take, and that’s why The Nashville Food Project is such an important and integral partner to academic excellence here. 

It sounds like you all are carrying out your program in a way that’s helping the students learn more about how to feed themselves and what the food that they eat does for their ability to learn and be active. What do you think the students are learning about and through this food?

We also partner with Second Harvest, and they have a lot of literature that we can use to educate the students in their native language. They give us those to help support the education piece. We use that alongside cooking lessons and other things. We have cooking rotations with our students where the approach is always to get kids to make their own healthy snacks. If there is a particular snack that we’re serving from The Nashville Food Project, we have a conversation with our volunteers about introducing those foods, talking about the colors of those foods and what the colors mean in terms of what that gives you - what orange food gives you, what red food gives you and what green food gives you. We’re always sending that message right through that window into our kitchen. 

It also gives us the opportunity to have conversations around perseverance when it comes to trying new things and why it’s important to at least take a bite. You can’t explain to me what you’re saying “no” to until you try it. That’s been a huge part of getting students into the whole mindset of what perseverance means in every aspect of their life including how they feed themselves. That’s an emotional decision so the social and emotional learning part of that - of not shutting yourself down to trying new things - is a big piece of it as well.

It’s great to see you all thinking about food and its impact on your students in such a meaningful way.

Yeah! It’s a very holistic and integrative approach here, and everything that we do points to those goals. 

Other than food, what do you think are the biggest factors outside of your control that are impacting the education and development of the students you work with?

Here at the St. Luke’s facility, 100% of our students are living below the poverty line, and 68% of our students are native Spanish speakers. They are the first English speakers in their families so for reading comprehension, they always have to go the long way around the barn. 

Particularly in our fifth through eighth grade population, Nashville Prep is a college preparatory school teaching high order and critical thinking skills. Reading a paragraph and being able to extrapolate data, form a conclusion, find evidence to support a question - those sorts of things take a lot of concentration when English isn’t your native language so ELL and being able to work with that population in homework help is always a challenge. 

The other problem is that for this population their support system is often not in the country. Having a caring adult, having high participation in our mentoring program where there’s a caring adult in their lives other than their mom has been a big part of our mission at PTM because their support system isn’t even here. Not down the street. Not in another neighborhood. In another country.

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I know that one of the things that The Nashville Food Project has been doing here at PTM that’s different from some of our other after-school program partners is the Community Suppers you do. I’d love to hear about how that came about.

When I first came and sat down with The Nashville Food Project and talked about the programs that you offered, we decided that rather than having healthy snacks coming four days a week, we wanted a way to be able to share that experience in a family setting, bringing the community together around healthy food. So we negotiated that once a quarter we would have a Community Supper, and we could share that experience, where students could communicate to the parent about the food they were eating. I think we had 42 people here for the first Community Supper, but for the last one we had about 120! 

It’s a huge huge part of what we do here! It gives us an opportunity, a way for us to increase our parent engagement and find out what’s going on in the home and just sit down and break bread together. Just share a meal together. It has turned into Community Supper/Dance Party. There’s a lot of dancing that goes on! Which is great.

During Community Suppers we always talk about The Nashville Food Project and go into depth about the people that gleaned the food, the people that prepared the food, the people that transported the food. The meal is always so beautiful and so colorful, and we go into what we’re eating and why it’s important. I stand there at that microphone, and that’s what we talk about. We always have the food portion of the evening, then some sort of enrichment where we’re highlighting something in the program to give them a little bit about what we do while their kids are here.

We have four Community Suppers a year. The one in May has become our graduation ceremony and volunteer appreciation dinner. The one in September is sort of our open house when we’re launching the program, getting to know the families, meeting some parents for the first time. The one in November/December becomes sort of a holiday meal. It has become an integral part of what we do, and I’m so glad that we’ve structured it this way.

You hear a lot about how much parent involvement can impact a student’s performance. Have you all seen a difference in your students after being able to get their families more involved in your program through these Community Suppers?

What’s great about it is that it helps us to close that loop in terms of what’s going on in the school and how that needs to be communicated to the home base. When that’s carried through a child, a lot gets lost in translation so we do get to be that unifying arm. We close that loop in terms of what’s happening in the school and after-school environment. That’s one piece of it. 

Like I said, 68% of these students are learning in English instead of their native language, so it is so difficult for parents to be a help. That’s one area where we can bridge the gap. I just had a parent meeting a couple of weeks ago, and we instilled a new homework policy where we’re not only looking at homework, we’re correcting it, and we’re initialing off on it. This is a way for a parent to know, “Hey, there’s been a caring, educated adult that’s looked at this. I don’t have to feel shame or pressure to be the person who helps with this when I’m not an English reader.”

These are some of the ways in which having Community Suppers and having parents come alongside us builds rapport, credibility and trust.

While We're Here

On a typical Tuesday our South Hall kitchen is filled with a steady group of diverse and dedicated volunteers, and you can’t escape the good vibes. A 3-year veteran, Linda, tells me that it’s the music that Meals Coordinator Katie always plays that gets everyone grooving. Very easy to agree with after hearing the funk of Ray Charles come through the radio. I do feel our cherry sorting production was increased with the help of the background music, not to mention it led to the first common ground and opening to discuss the focus of this blog: friendship.

Although Linda suggests that the music was meant to appease some of the older volunteers (Psshh, she was in tow with her teenage grandson that day, back for his second visit.), it really is just another tool in nurturing community and friendship. With so much food to prep, it would be easy to get too involved with the work and miss the opportunity to build relationships, but that never seems to be the case around here.

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I asked my delightful cherry sorting partner, Meera (very cool lady), why she keeps coming back, and she told me that, for her, she just wants to help and volunteer her time, simple as that. She went on to say that “while we are here, is when you see something special.”

Hearing the story of how she began meeting and building friendships with other volunteers, you can see that there is much more going on here than just sorting cherries. Meera is apparently an amazing cook and master of spice! As we are having this conversation, a dedicated volunteer cook Mary comes by to try out a few of the Rainer cherries on the table.

I soon find out that Meera and Mary have been volunteering together for nearly five years! These ladies, along with Linda and their friends Marilyn and Cheri, all met in the TNFP kitchen, and through their service to the organization, they’ve built lasting friendships that follow them outside our kitchens. It is amazing to see the friendships that have been cultivated over these cutting boards and mixing bowls.

These ladies and their friendship really shows the mission of The Nashville Food Project in action, and shows how we are fulfilling our mission to cultivate community. Each time I volunteer with TNFP, I am amazed at how much of the real work of the organization happens just by being in the space surrounded by these amazing volunteers.

If you want to help us cultivate community, just show up, open-up, give a hand, and listen to the music. Why we are here is great, but what happens while we are here is the magic.

Creating and Sustaining a Local Food Web

by Christina Bentrup, Garden Director

The Nashville Food Project has been proud to call ourselves a full circle organization in the past. We grow, cook and share food in a way where each of our programs nurture and sustain each other and our mission.  However recent events have led me to wonder if we have limited ourselves in speaking this way and if actually what we are growing into is a vibrant and resilient food web. 

We all learned in biology class that food webs are made up of interdependent linkages. No part of a web is too small to not have an oversized effect on the whole web if disrupted or displaced. In the garden program at TNFP we grow thousands of pounds of fresh produce for our meals program, work with over 75 community and market gardeners and engage hundreds of volunteers each month in learning about urban agriculture through doing this work.

Daily, in and around our gardens we compost, raise chickens, provide homes for bees and other pollinators, collect rainwater, plant cover crops to protect and nurture the soil - the list goes on and on. We collectively refer to these aspects of our gardens as ecosystem components. In our controlled environment, our gardens could survive without many of these aspects. But they thrive because each of these parts contributes to a whole that supports and sustains a vibrant farm ecosystem. 


I believe that what is happening in the gardens at TNFP is a microcosm of our larger work. Food webs depend upon producers, consumers and even decomposers - no component exists in isolation or can survive fragmentation. We believe the same is true for Nashville’s food system. The isolation and fragmentation of communities has led to people without enough food to eat and without the social connections to tap into community resources that can help. 
TNFP shares meals and gardens because we believe that food has an incredible ability to connect and unite people in deep ways. The non-profit partners we work with every day share our meals to build community in their programs. Our gardens provide places for connection to the land and to diverse community-building activities. Volunteers in all of our programs nurture and support this work and build community with us and each other every time they gather. We are creating and sustaining a vibrant food web that makes connections, supports people and carefully stewards our resources.

Someone told us recently that we needed to work more on connecting the dots in our programs. We have a difficult story to tell and a complex solution to the problems we’ve identified. We need to understand better the root causes of fragmentation and isolation in our communities. We need to find innovative ways to measure the impact of our work and to evaluate and to place value in the links in our food systems.
Decades of factory farming that has fragmented food supply chains and destroyed ecosystems have shown that linear efforts to simplify food production don’t work. In our gardens we strive for complexity and resiliency to support an ecosystem based on food production that is connected to our specific places and communities - as does The Nashville Food Project as a whole.


We strive to create and support connectivity, to build resiliency, and to do these things in a framework of justice and anti-racism.  It’s a difficult and complex story to tell but that doesn’t mean we should simplify our efforts. Rather we need to continue to appreciate the thousands of small links joining together to make big change. We cannot do this work alone. We invite you to be a part of our food web, help us share our story, and make the connections that build community through fighting hunger.

The Nashville Food Project Awarded Governor's Environmental Stewardship Award

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau Thursday announced the winners of the 2017 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards. Winners will be recognized for their achievements and positive impact on the state’s natural resources in an awards ceremony to be held in Nashville on June 16.

“These organizations represent the spirit and drive that make the Volunteer State great,” Haslam said. “I thank all of the winners for their individual contributions to the environment and for keeping Tennessee a beautiful state in which to live and work and to visit.”

The Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards program recognizes exceptional voluntary actions that improve or protect our environment and natural resources with projects or initiatives not required by law or regulation. In its 31st year, this year’s awards program covers nine categories: Building Green; Clean Air, Energy and Renewable Resources; Environmental Education and Outreach; Environmental Education and Outreach (school category); Land Use; Materials Management; Natural Heritage; and Sustainable Performance. 

“I applaud all who were nominated and those who won for working to protect our state’s natural resources in an efficient, sustainable way,” Martineau said. “Voluntary actions are crucial to safeguard and improve our natural environment.”

The 2017 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award recipients are:

  • Belmont University – Davidson County
  • Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority – Hamilton County
  • City of Lebanon – Wilson County
  • Keep Knoxville Beautiful – Knox County
  • Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization – Knox County
  • Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority – Davidson County
  • Nashville Fire Department Station 19 – Davidson County
  • New Hope Christian Academy – Shelby County
  • Sherwood Forest Project – Davidson County
  • Suttree Landing Park – Knox County
  • The Nashville Food Project – Davidson County

The 2017 awards roster includes two Pursuit of Excellence Awards, which recognize past award winners who continue to demonstrate a high regard for environmental stewardship practices. The winner of one additional honor, the Robert Sparks Walker Lifetime Achievement Award, will be announced at the awards ceremony. 

A panel of 22 professionals representing agricultural, conservation, forestry, environmental and academic professionals judged more than 89 nominations and selected this year’s award recipients based on criteria including on-the-ground achievement, innovation and public education. More information about the Awards can be found here:http://tn.gov/environment/topic/sp-gesa-governors-environmental-stewardship-awards.

Details about each award winner can be found below:

Category: Sustainable Performance
Winner: Belmont University, Davidson County

Belmont University’s R. Milton and Denice Johnson Center received its LEED Gold certification in April of 2016. This building is home to Belmont’s campus dining facility, the Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business, programs in Media Studies and a new major on campus, Motion Pictures. The 134,000 sq. ft. building sits atop a 1,000+ space parking garage. This parking garage and others on campus have free charging stations for electric vehicles and designated spaces for car/vanpool and fuel efficient vehicles. Two of the garages have been upgraded with LED lights and fixtures to cut both energy use and utility costs. The building also boasts a geothermal heating and cooling system and a composting operation. The heating and cooling system is expected to yield a savings of 40 percent in energy annually. The composting system converts food and cardboard waste into enriched soil additives through large dehydrators, which reduces overall waste from food operations. It also helps divert waste from landfills. The University has installed a stormwater run-off collection system that collects in underground storage tanks. The collection tank is one-third the size of an Olympic swimming pool and has allowed Belmont to utilize over 12 million gallons of reclaimed water for irrigation in 2016. Belmont now has three buildings on campus that are LEED certified and eight buildings that have been built with sustainable features. The University continues to take a comprehensive look at how they can be environmentally sensitive and be a leader in sustainability and environmental responsibility among universities.


Category: Clean Air

Winner: Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority, Hamilton County

The Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA), with funding provided by the Tennessee Valley Authority, launched an integrated public Level 2 charging and electric vehicle car share network along its existing public transit system. There are 56 charging stations across 20 locations and energy use is offset by three new solar power generators, with a combined capacity of 80kW. The total emissions reduction equaled 530 tons of CO2 with the implementation of this program. CARTA recognized the value in promoting multimodal travel solutions that can be integrated into the transit system. Electric charging and car share station sites were designed to coordinate with CARTA’s mainline bus and Electric Shuttle routes, Bike Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System locations and key downtown parking garages. Additionally, CARTA selected Green Commuter to launch the state’s first all-electric public car share system, with the initial deployment of 20 Nissan LEAFs in Chattanooga. These vehicles use the public charging stations and are maintained and sponsored by Green Commuter.


Category: Energy and Renewable Resources

Winner: City of Lebanon: Waste to Energy, Wilson County

The City of Lebanon has started operating a downdraft gasification plant at its wastewater treatment facility. The gasification initiative is the first in the nation and the largest downdraft gasifer in the world. The facility cost was a little over $3.5 million, diverting 8,000 tons (equivalent to a line of semi-trucks four miles long) of wood and sludge waste from the local landfill, and converting 36,000 Tennessee scrap rubber tires into energy annually. This will eliminate 2,500 tons of carbon emissions per year. The facility produces a leftover carbon-rich biochar that the city plans to sell to local farmers to fertilize crops as a potential new revenue stream. The plant also has the capacity to generate 1.8 million kilowatt-hours of electricity behind the meter, which has the ability to power 312 homes. In addition to gasification, Lebanon is taking steps to support the only commuter rail system in Middle Tennessee by installing one MW of solar arrays at both the water and wastewater treatment plant to offset the electrical costs, starting a pilot recycling program for residents, and continuing the conversion of city vehicles from fossil fuels to natural gas.


Category: Environmental Education and Outreach

Winner: Keep Knoxville Beautiful, Knox County
Keep Knoxville Beautiful (KKB), founded in 1978 to help clean up the city prior to the 1982 World’s Fair, is a locally-funded, non-profit, independent affiliate of Keep America Beautiful. In 2016, KKB accelerated their educational outreach programs by facilitating over 65 neighborhood, waterway and roadside cleanups, collecting over 36 tons of roadside waste and three tons of recyclables, and removing over 100 waste tires from roadsides and waterways. KBB facilitated and supported over 1,600 volunteers to work nearly 4,000 hours and mobilized their recycling trailer at seven public events. KKB reached nearly 400 students at 23 educational engagement presentations and presented as educational exhibitors at over 20 public events. KKB instituted four new programs in 2016 to engage more of the community. These programs include “Trash Runs”, which are geared toward rapid trash removal and the “Beautification Mobs” to create long-lasting visual enhancements to entrance corridors along interstates. KKB also bought a recycling trailer that provides an organized recycling receptacle for public events. The trailer is painted with mission specific messaging to facilitate education and outreach while providing a community service. KKB also added to their event list the Rocky Top Pickin’ Party, which is a fall fundraiser with local musicians.


Category: Pursuit of Excellence

Winner: Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization: Smart Trips, Knox County

Smart Trips provides an incentive-based reward program for businesses and commuters who choose to unburden the transportation system through various green trips, including telecommuting, ride-sharing, carpooling, biking, walking, bus and transit. The program collects data on historically not well-documented data of alternative transit trips. Enhanced reporting on alternative trips provides a more holistic view of the regional transit system in the Knoxville area and leads to enhancements for all roadway users. Relative to the affordability of gasoline and the increase in single occupancy vehicle trips, Smart Trips is experiencing an increase in active users, whose trip reporting indicates a rising trend in longer and more diverse trips. The program began in 2003 and grew exponentially in 2012 by adding over 1,000 registered commuters. To date they have had over 949,969 registered commuters logging multiple modes of commuting. Smart Trips users logged 17,908,426 miles in “alternative” commutes over the last six years, including carpool, vanpool, transit, bicycle, walking, telework and compressed workweeks. This represents 8,414,344 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions prevented as well as significant reductions of NOx, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter and other tailpipe air pollutants.


Category: Pursuit of Excellence

Winner: Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority, Davidson County

The Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority (MNAA) has continued to build on their core values of sustainability while having a visible impact to their 12.2 million visitors. MNAA has added compressed natural gas (CNG) shuttles and buses to their fleet. In 2016, MNAA saw an opportunity to use their limestone quarry to provide a water-source lake plate geothermal cooling system that would support the cooling load of the nearly 900,000 sq. ft. terminal building. MNAA rolled out 20 new CNG powered shuttles to service parking lots at the Nashville International Airport (BNA). These consist of 15, 24-passenger shuttles, two 29-passenger shuttles, and three 14-passenger shuttles. These shuttles join eight new BNA Express Park CNG powered shuttles that were put into service in June 2016. Based on an annual estimated consumption of 300,000 gallons of diesel, greenhouse gas emissions at the airport shuttle operations will be reduced by 14 percent. This equates to an annual reduction of 587 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. These improvements help the health and well-being of the public who flies in and out of the facilities as well as the employees and workers who support the aviation operations.

MNAA identified a way to harness the thermal properties of deep water which had accumulated over decades in an abandoned quarry on airport property. The $10.4 million cold deep water system is used to cool the entire terminal building, reduce the use of electricity, and reduce potable water consumption by providing irrigation means for airport landscaping.


Category: Building Green

Winner: Nashville Fire Department Station 19, Davidson County

Nashville Fire Department Station 19 is the first LEED Platinum certified fire station for new construction in the entire Southeast. The station’s eco-friendly design resulted in a 60 percent diversion of construction waste from a landfill, one-third less water use and a 44 percent reduction in energy costs. Fifteen percent of the building’s electricity use is provided by its 33kW solar panel array and 31 percent of all materials used were regionally manufactured or locally sourced, with 16 percent of the building materials being recycled. In 2016, Fire Station 19 saved over $11,000 in electricity costs compared to a comparable building, and generated nearly 39,000 kWh of solar energy. Lighting levels were optimized to provide only the required light needed in corridors, which led to a 41 percent reduction in lighting power density. Additionally, Fire Station 19 is sub-metered in real time. Every circuit in the facility is directly monitored for energy consumption on a second-to-second basis so problems can be detected immediately and city energy managers can respond accordingly.


Category: Environmental Education and Outreach

Winner: New Hope Christian Academy, Shelby County

New Hope Christian Academy’s students are actively learning environmental stewardship through several education programs including the school’s urban garden. The school addresses education as it relates to energy conservation measures, recycling and composting with outreach to students and their families to make them aware of how to care for the environment and sustainability both at home and school. In January 2016, the school had a “Bust the Energy Hog” campaign where classrooms were equipped with light switch plates reminding them to conserve energy and thermometers to monitor their room temperature. Classrooms were awarded with “Bacon Bucks” when they were discovered doing a good job. Each classroom has recycling bins and faculty is proactively working to become paper free by having students turn in assignments online and sending emails and texts to parents. Through the recycling program, the school recycled 15,000 pounds of paper and cardboard in 2016. New Hope collected over 300 bags of raked leaves from families last fall as well as food compost material from school meals. The material is used to enhance soil for the school’s urban farm, which they created from a nearby vacant lot. The urban farm is used as an outdoor classroom to teach students about plants and the food that comes from them. During the growing season, they have a Pay-What-You-Can-Veggie Stand, where parents can get organic foods at affordable prices. New Hope has two bee hives at the farm as well, where fifth grade students harvest the honey, bottle it, and sell it within the school community.


Category: Natural Heritage

Winner: Sherwood Forest Project, Davidson County

The Sherwood Forest Project has added 4,061 acres of high-quality forestland and critical habitat to the public land areas in the South Cumberland region. The project involved purchasing the additional acres from a private mining company. Funding was made available from the Land and Wildlife Conservation Fund, through the merit-based Forest Legacy Program, and implemented in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. The additional acreage was added to the approximately 41,000 acres of already protected forestland, including Bear Hollow Mountain Wildlife Management Area, Franklin State Forest, Carter State Natural Area, and Walls of Jericho State Natural Area. Acquisition of this land ensures the protection of habitats critical for federally-listed endangered, threatened or federal candidate species, including the endangered Morefield’s leather flower and the federally-threatened painted snake coiled forest snail. Additionally, two rare animals, the Eastern small-footed bat and Allegheny woodrat, are protected by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. These animals have been recorded on the property along with four-toed salamanders, barking tree frogs, and Rafinesque’s big-eared bat, which are state-protected animals. The 4,061-acre tract also contains the Griffin Shelter, which is the only excavated prehistoric rock art site in Tennessee. There are four panels of elaborate and deeply incised petroglyphs and artifacts used to carve the art and perform sacred activities. The project also protects over eight miles of stream and riparian habitat in the Guntersville Lake watershed, which are critical for protecting drinking water quality for the community of Sherwood.


Category: Land Use

Winner: Suttree Landing Park, Knox County

As you walk through Suttree Landing, Knoxville’s new downtown eight-acre linear park, it is hard to imagine that from the 1940s until 2004, this was an industrial site home to a bulk oil storage facility, a textile dying operation and an engine parts manufacturer. To facilitate this transformation, the City of Knoxville successfully negotiated a Brownfield Voluntary Agreement with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Division of Remediation in 2010. Six years later, the city has a beautiful, multi-use riverfront park. This project illustrates that the conversion of a Brownfield site into an outdoor recreation space can be accomplished through strategic planning, partnerships, community involvement and active stakeholder involvement toward a common vision. The city applied for and received a $400,000 Community-Wide Brownfield Assessment Grant from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess properties along the waterfront. The collaborative effort between EPA, the City of Knoxville and TDEC identified 12 sites with significant redevelopment potential. Two of the sites were used for Suttree Landing Park. With the creation of the park came the connection of the Urban Wilderness in South Knoxville, a recreation, cultural and historic preservation initiative, incorporating 1,000 forested acres in and around the South Waterfront. The park contains a Riverwalk, two festival lawns, four overlook areas with seat walls and picnic tables, an ADA-accessible children’s playground, a put-in area for kayaks and canoes, and a surface parking lot for larger events. The park festival lawn has an irrigation system that pumps water from the river, reducing the need for potable water on site. Bioswales were installed to manage water runoff and tolerate periodic flooding. The Riverwalk consists of a six-foot wide soft surface running trail, a five-foot furnishing zone composed of bike racks, benches, and lighting, and a 12-foot hard surface, and a multi-use path for bicyclists and pedestrians.


Category: Materials Management

Winner: The Nashville Food Project, Davidson County

The Nashville Food Project is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to bring people together to grow, cook and share nourishing food, with the goals of cultivating community and alleviating hunger in Nashville. This is critical work as 17 percent of Tennessee residents do not have enough food to sustain a healthy lifestyle. In 2016, The Nashville Food Project recovered more than 120,000 pounds of edible healthy surplus food from local farms, grocers and restaurants. With the majority of the food used in their Meals Program, they were able to provide more than 3,100 meals to vulnerable communities each week. These weekly meals are shared in partnership with more than 27 local nonprofits. The Nashville Food Project strives for maximum sustainability throughout their meals programs by sharing meals in compostable clamshell containers. Meals are supplemented with local, sustainably-grown food and they dedicate a portion of their food budget to their local farmer investment expenditure. Purchasing produce from local farmers supports the farmer, the farmer’s sustainable practices and the local economy. Any food that is not fit for human consumption is fed to The Nashville Food Project’s flock of urban chickens or added to their compost system. This in turn supports their production gardens, which produced over 6,200 pounds of organically-grown produce for meals in 2016. The Nashville Food Project’s four community gardens provide land, resources and training to empower 100 low-income families, immigrants and refugees to support their families’ food and financial needs. They are actively working towards a system of zero food waste.

Spreading Joy through Nourishing Food

by Patricia Bing, St. Luke's Community House Family Resource Center Director

On any day of the week, you can walk into the kitchen at St. Luke’s and be greeted with a smile and warm hello in the midst of all of the hustle and bustle that takes place when over 200 meals are being prepared for the day. This warm and inviting atmosphere is just one reflection of the great partnership that has been established between St. Luke’s and The Nashville Food Project.  

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The partnership between the two organizations began in March of 2016, sprouting from two separate places- St. Luke’s need to provide quality and nutritious food to our clients, and The Nashville Food Project’s desire to begin a social enterprise. After being connected with one another, talks ensued, and that, as they say, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

The Nashville Food Project now provides food for two programs at St. Luke’s. The first being our Senior Services program, that provides freshly prepared lunches that are delivered to seniors in their homes Monday through Friday and meals for our weekly senior activities. The second program is our preschool, for which The Nashville Food Project prepares breakfast, lunch, and snack daily.

There was a period where we had to transition the participants of both programs to the new menus and foods they were now being served. The Nashville Food Project did a great job of finding compromises that mixed in the foods clients were used to being served with healthier alternatives. The communication between the two organizations was essential to a successful partnership. The Nashville Food Project did, and still does, an excellent job of making sure they understand what both our seniors and children like and want. They talk to the teachers. Seniors are polled and asked questions, and they are always open to any idea or suggestions that may come from the St. Luke’s staff.

At St. Luke’s we recognize that food is a vehicle. It is a way to educate, bring people together, and help us discover what other needs the members of our community may have. Through this partnership, we are able to not only introduce nutritious foods to our clients, but it gives us an opportunity to educate them on why it is healthy and what other healthy food options may be out there.

We have heard stories from individuals about how this change in their diet has improved their quality of life. One of our seniors let us know that since switching to the healthier meals, her blood pressure is lower, blood sugar is better controlled and she has lost 8 pounds. Today, I walked into a classroom of two-year olds during lunch time and they could not get enough of the salad, green beans, and spaghetti they were eating. Most had abandoned their forks in favor of their hands to make sure they got every delicious bite.

There is now a positive energy that surrounds the preparation, delivery, and consumption of the food that is pure joy to witness. These examples truly show what a success the partnership between St. Luke’s Community House and The Nashville Food Project has been and will continue to be.

We're always looking for volunteers to help prepare these delicious meals at our St. Luke's kitchen! Click here to sign up.

Celebrating Community at John Glenn

Its lunchtime on a Thursday; which, means it’s time to load the truck up and hit the road. The destination: John Glenn and Peggy Ann Alsup Arbors Residential Center. John Glenn is a part of National Church Residences which provides housing for seniors with low incomes who meet the criteria set by HUD.

When first entering this community, you are greeted with a warm welcome, in the form of a smile, wave, or “Thank You for being here.” Later in the day, one receives more kind words, jokes that turn into laughter, and hugs that turn into friendship. So much so, that the usual one hour lunch run called for more. We decided to add music, games, and fellowship to the mix, turning it into a fun Community Day.

The Nashville Food Project has been serving a weekly lunch for the residents of John Glenn since 2013. Since then, we’ve built deep relationships with the community, and we’ve watched as they have done the same. What began four years ago as residents of two disconnected buildings has become a thriving community where the men and women interact like family. When one wonders what we mean when we say that nourishing food cultivates community, look no further than the incredible community at John Glenn.

On our recent Community Day, we had a balloon race, tunes from Earth Wind and Fire, and a room full of participants in a fun game. The music even led to shaking and dancing. To top it off, this day was a part of National Volunteer Appreciation Week at The Nashville Food Project. Thursday was marked as Backwards Day, and John Glenn Residents decided to join in on the fun. Almost everyone was in backwards clothing! This excitement led to an even greater afternoon. 

An hour of sharing the meal and joking around wasn’t enough. Nonetheless, we packed up and headed back to TNFP, leaving John Glenn until the next week. We left with handshakes, hugs, smiles, and “come back soon.” 

We’ve joined this community as more than a meal partner. We feel a part of a family that welcomes us to the cookout every Thursday afternoon. Thank you for welcoming us, folks! 

Growing Together - Building a Resilient Community

On an unseasonably hot and sunny day in April, I stand in the aisle between two newly shaped beds of a Growing Together farmer. We’ve been spending the last two weeks attempting to till the soil, but have been successfully thwarted by erratic weather that left the earth too wet to till. On this day, we are met with a window of opportunity to finish turning the soil on the remaining beds of farmers. Thomas, a grower originally from Burma, appears in a dress shirt, slacks, and loafers. He hasn’t had time to till his plot as he was balancing a recent acceptance to attend school to learn to become an electrician, along with supporting his family. He explains his circumstance, then rolls up his sleeves and begins to use the tractor to finish tilling his plot, no time to be wasted getting changed.

I watch as he turns over the soil in the hot sun, and think of the other circumstances of the growers in our market garden, considering the complicated decisions and challenges these Growing Together farmers face. For some, this challenge may manifest in the difficulty of acquiring health insurance in an inaccessible system. For others, it may come in the form of taking a citizenship test. No matter the challenge, it always adds to the already great responsibility of being a farmer.

 Thomas, working his plots (this time not in dress clothes)

Thomas, working his plots (this time not in dress clothes)

Farming is an art that inherently requires resilience. One must not only learn to be flexible, but also prepared, ready to consider factors ranging from seasonality to weather.  However, the farmers of the Growing Together program demonstrate an unbelievable amount of resilience. Not only must they go through the complicated process of resettlement into a new country (a process that is continuous and ongoing), but they must also strike a delicate balance between their work and family life all the while maintaining a commitment to growing food in a new climate with differing conditions for farming.

The resiliency of the farmers in the Growing Together program has been made readily apparent in the three seasons of the program’s life.Three of the eight growers have been with the program since the beginning, but all of the farmers, regardless of the length of their participation, have shared their personal growth and important life events with the program. We have watched growers celebrate new accomplishments, acquire new jobs, have children, and mourn the passing of a close family member. In my time with the Growing Together program, I’ve learned that while there is a commitment to growing greens or chilies or market skills, there is a greater commitment to growing a community, one that is filled with strength, support, and the perseverance to foster growth. Even when it requires tilling in loafers.

Get to know Thomas and the other Growing Together farmers here.

Simple Snacks with a BIG Impact

Amid cooking club, homework help, reading intervention, book club, fitness time, and the hum of many more activities, the elementary through high-school aged students at Preston Taylor Ministries’ (PTM) after-school program gather two times each week over a snack prepared by The Nashville Food Project (TNFP). It may be as simple as carrot sticks and fruit salad, or a healthy spin on traditional snacks like pizza with hummus or vegetable chips, yet these snacks have made a big impact at PTM.

“Not only have our students been more open to trying new foods, but we see a better attitude, more even energy and well balanced moods on TNFP snack days,” says Lisa Lentz, director of PTM’s programs at their St. Luke’s Community House site. 

The almost 80 students involved in this program are engaged in SPARK (Sport-Play-Active-Recreation-for-Kids), a program designed to promote daily activity and healthy living for youth during after-school time. TNFP’s twice per week snacks fit squarely alongside this mission. These snacks offer a more nutritious alternative to the high sugar/simple carb processed snacks that PTM was serving before partnering with TNFP, supporting balanced energy levels and providing opportunities for the students to experience new, healthy foods.

As Lisa goes on to say, as staff “it's always an adventure getting kids to try new things”, but “teaching and practicing healthy snacking is a big part of what we do with our students. At first, it was a challenge but gradually they have learned that all they need to do is take one bite and then make a decision.”  

Further, these snacks promote relationship building between the students and PTM staff while enhancing what they are learning through the SPARK program. PTM staff are often the first ones to try the snack, poking into the TNFP pans to see what creative snack is on the day’s menu. 

Going through the experience of trying new foods as a staff helps us to relate that experience to our kids. Many times, I’ve heard a student make a comment about how a snack looks weird, but it opens a door for our staff to come alongside the student and share their uneasiness about something different and how they tried it and loved it. It also gives us the opportunity to talk about the ingredients and how they benefit their brain growth and body strength. It’s great to have a conversation around food in healthy ways
— Lisa Lentz

TNFP also prepares a hot, made-from-scratch meal for PTM’s quarterly community suppers, providing an opportunity for students, families, and staff to share a nutritious meal together. Students prepare the room when programming is over, putting out chairs and setting tables as the space is filled with a growing excitement. Music is turned on and students begin dancing as they wait eagerly for their families to arrive.

“Eating together just takes the relationship between our staff and families to a deeper level. Conversation can slow down because they aren't rushing out the door and topics can meander off the daily grind to a more personal nature” says Lisa. Over the course of the year, this program has grown steadily, from 45 people at the first supper to 120 at the last!

In partnership with Preston Taylor Ministries, The Nashville Food Project provides twice weekly snacks and quarterly suppers for PTM’s after-school program. Yet, these seemingly small additions of nutritious food, have had big impact on the students, the staff, and the families of PTM, supporting healthy living and building relationships over the simple act of good food.