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. 

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“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.” 

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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. 

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“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.

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

Making the Most of Every Resource

One things we like to say around here at The Nashville Food Project is that we believe that we live in a world of abundance. A world where there is enough to go around - enough farmable land to grow nourishing food for our city, enough hard-working hands to do incredible work and enough food to feed everyone in our community. 

We know that 40% of all food produced in our country is thrown away, but we also know that it doesn’t have to be that way. Last year, we began working with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to ramp up our food recovery efforts. They shared with us a food waste pyramid that has helped guide us in determining how best to use all of our food resources as we work towards a system of zero waste. 

The first and most important step is to avoid generating food waste in general. With that in mind, we’ve gotten even more creative in how we use up every last bit of the food that we have. A great example of this is our partnership with our neighbors at Green Hills Grille. On their menu is a great salmon filet, but we all know that a side of salmon doesn’t come beautifully square shaped naturally. In order to get that pretty portion, the restaurant cuts off all of the trimmings, but instead of just throwing them away, they freeze them and bring us those trimmings each week. We cook them up and use them for meals like our delicious salmon patties. That ensures that all of that food goes to the NRDC’s second most recommended use of food - to feed people in need.

As we’ve increased our food recovery efforts, though, we’ve realized that we can’t always use all of our recovered food before it perishes, and some of it just doesn’t meet the needs of our meal guests. So we began building a network of partners who can take this excess food and use it in their own programs. 

One such partner is Renewal House, a nonprofit that provides long-term, comprehensive treatment programs serving women affected by addiction and their children. Each week, we share healthy food with the women participating in Renewal House’s family residential program, stocking refrigerators so that the mothers have good food to prepare for their children. We now have 11 of these partners with whom we share our excess food, ensuring that none of it goes to waste.

Still there are times when we get food that is no longer appropriate for human consumption so we went back to the pyramid to determine the best and highest use for it. The next NRDC recommendation is to use food waste for animal feed. We raise chickens in our Wedgewood Urban Garden so naturally, much of our excess food has become chicken feed, and we must say that it has resulted in some very happy, healthy chickens!

What we can’t share in our meals, with our food sharing partners or with our chickens is then composted. That food contributes to creating wonderful potting soil that feeds our gardens, which, of course, produce even more healthy food. It’s an incredible cycle that we’ve loved seeing come together. 

We are constantly exploring new ways to make the best and highest use of every bit of food that comes through our doors. Slowly but surely, we’re doing our best to reduce our own food waste and to help our city as it works to do the same. If you’re interested in learning how you can reduce your own family’s food waste, we urge you to visit savethefood.com to find great recipes and resources to get you started.

Reconnecting with Family History Through Food

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

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

Ifeoma and her husband

Ifeoma and her husband

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Meal Partnership Supports Immigrant Families

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food Crosses Cultural Boundaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuel for the Job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How we Cooked in 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

How we Grew in 2016

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

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

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

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

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

How YOU Nourished Our City in 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How we Shared in 2016

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

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

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

Best If Used: SAVE THE FOOD

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

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

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