Alton Park includes nearly 4,700 people, but no grocery store.
"We have equal food access issues," said Falice Haire, community liaison for the Alton Park Development Corp. "Community members have to travel distances by bus, by taxi or by foot to get to the grocery store."
To help with the issue, neighborhood residents and Bunge Edible Oils planted an Alton Park community garden last week to improve residents' access to produce. Even if the squash, tomatoes, greens, peppers and strawberries planted don't to fill all the need, it's a start, Mrs. Haire said.
"It gives a sense of visible accomplishment," she said.
Bunge Safety Manager Matt Joyner nailed a garden bed together Tuesday while other company employees worked with residents to place coverings that keep weeds out of the vegetable bed.
"We have been wanting to do something to give back to the community," Mr. Joyner said. "We've been lacking in that area and we want to step up."
Vegetable gardens are good, but the real need is for a full-service grocery, said James Moreland, chairman of the East Chattanooga Weed and Seed Steering committee.
"A vegetable garden is putting a Band-Aid on the problem," he said.
Mr. Moreland said his goal is to find investors to help open groceries in inner-city communities.
The Bi-Lo on St. Elmo Avenue is one of the closest grocery stores to the community, Mrs. Haire said. But many residents don't have cars and they are limited in the amount of groceries they can carry while walking or riding the bus, she said.
When residents with no transportation have to choose between walking back with a bag of chips or a bag of apples, people can understand why residents pick the lighter and easier to carry chips, said Geri Spring, director of the Alton Park Development Corp.
Bunge Edible Oils is donating $500 this year and another $500 next year to help sustain the garden. The company also supplied manpower. Of the 16 people present at the Piney Woods Resource Center on Tuesday morning, about half were Bunge employees.
The vegetable garden also is funded by a $1,000 Step One and Junior Achievement grant, Mrs. Haire said.
For years, some Alton Park residents called Bunge foods the "neighborhood nemesis" because of the smells that the plant produced, Mrs. Haire said. But several residents Tuesday said they appreciate the company's effort to assist with their garden.
The company manufactures shortening and vegetable oil.
To participate with the Alton Park Community Garden, call Falice Haire at 635-6580 or Geri Spring at 991-6435.
"We smell the product in the process of it being made into cooking oils," Mrs. Haire said. "And you feel it all over your skin in the summertime."
The company, located in Alton Park on Kirkland Avenue, has donated money in the past. Mrs. Haire recalled that the company gave to a community Harambee Festival in 2005. Bunge also helped fund the community garden at Calvin Donaldson Elementary and at South Chattanooga Recreation Center. But this is the first time Bunge has given so much of their time to the project, Mrs. Haire said.
Like other communities with limited access to grocery stores, Alton Park has a disproportionately high number residents who suffer from hypertension, stroke, diabetes and other obesity-related illnesses, officials said.
More than 70 percent of the predominantly black population in East and South Chattanooga is overweight or obese, officials said.
Continue reading by following these links to related stories: