Food Bank garden coordinator teaches everything from food to flowers

Food Bank garden coordinator teaches everything from food to flowers

September 11th, 2012 by Karen Nazor Hill in Life Entertainment

Jane Mauldin, garden coordinator at Chattanooga Area Food Bank, shows off her gardening tools at the Times Free Press studio.

Jane Mauldin, garden coordinator at Chattanooga Area Food...

Photo by Allison Love /Times Free Press.


Age: 46.

Profession: Community garden coordinator at Chattanooga Area Food Bank.

Family: Husband Jerry, daughters, Ansley, 19, and Rebecca, 16.

Education: University of Tennessee Knoxville (history), 1990; University of Tennessee Chattanooga (education), 1991.

Favorite movie: "Fried Green Tomatoes."

Favorite book: "Prodigal Summer" by Barbara Kingsolver.

Favorite musician: Van Morrison.


• The Chattanooga Area Food Bank was founded in 1982 by local civic and church leaders.

• During its first year, the Food Bank provided 600,000 pounds of food to hungry families. In 2011, the organization distributed 11.9 million pounds of food to residents and agencies in its 20-county service area.

• The Food Bank serves an average of 20,000 people each week.


Having grown up on a 50-acre working farm, gardening was a way of life for Jane Mauldin and her eight siblings.

She put it on the back burner while she pursued a career in education, and later, politics.

Still, gardening was a part of her life, and she eventually wanted it back.

"I had just come back to gardening and was looking for a part-time job that involved gardening," she said. "I saw that the (Chattanooga Area) Food Bank was looking for someone who had experience in gardening and working with volunteers. I was a volunteer for (Congresswoman) Marilyn Lloyd's last congressional run in 1992, so volunteering had become a big part of my life."

Mauldin said the job description was to oversee volunteers working in the Food Bank's community garden.

Q: How long has the Food Bank had a garden?

A: The Bill Johnson Community Garden, named after the first director of the Food Bank, was started in the mid-1980s. Mr. Johnson came up with the idea of starting a community garden in public housing and started it with grant money.

When I started working there in 2000, we had a greenhouse in the West Side community at Golden Gateway. I worked mostly with senior citizens on fixed incomes. I made sure they had the tools and seeds for their garden. The garden was good, and the seniors taught me a lot. Some of them had grown up row cropping.

Q: What is the "teaching garden" at the Food Bank?

A: We put in the teaching garden in the fall of 2009, after receiving several grants. It's something Food Bank staff had talked about for a long time. They wanted to have a garden where they could grow food for the emergency food boxes. I work with master gardeners, and they suggested that we should have a teaching facility (for) garden classes. We do everything from growing vegetables and flowers to offering classes on canning.

Q: Who participates in your programs?

A: People from many communities. We're going to offer more classes to our emergency food box clients, and we work with some schools.

Q: What are some of your most popular programs?

A: Our composting class is very popular. We're also now teaching people how to plant fall seeds in containers (and) how to grow lettuce. (Our) canning and preserving classes are popular.

Q: Is it common for food banks in other cities to teach clients how to grow their own food?

A: Yes, and it's exciting. We work under Feeding America, our national umbrella. The emphasis is on nutrition and healthy foods. We're emphasizing the importance of teaching our clients to think of balanced, healthy food and meals.

Q: Because the Food Bank's garden is productive, do you accept fresh produce from local farmers?

A: We do accept donations of fresh produce, and we're always happy to get these donations. We also accept donations from Sam's (Club), Walmart and other retail outlets. The food boxes we give to our clients contain mostly nonperishable food, and the people additionally pick and get fresh produce to go into their boxes.

Q: What is the protocol for a client to receive a food box?

A: We work with agencies who give people a food-box voucher that they bring to us. Typically they get a food box the first of the month, and if they need another box, they go back to the same agency. If the same agency wants to give another voucher, they can. We're like a big warehouse.

Q: Do you feel satisfaction in teaching people to grow food for themselves and their families?

A: It's very rewarding to feel like you've had something to do with a lifestyle change. It has changed people's lives.

It's also rewarding to me because I'm learning more about how to grow things. I'm practicing what I'm preaching. I'm learning a lot from the master gardeners who work with us. I also feel a big responsibility to teach people to be self-efficient.

Q: Because you garden at work, do you garden at home, too?

A: Yes. We have a big garden at our home on Signal Mountain. My father-in-law lives next door. He's retired and helps a great deal with the garden. We also do major canning and freezing. Our garden is very productive.