Joel Tippens, of St. Elmo, is no average farmer; he grows produce out of the bed of his pickup truck.
His Chattaboogie Truck Farm is a teaching tool that travels with him to New City Fellowship Church to show after-school students how to grow their own produce from recyclable containers or box gardens.
"You can grow food almost anywhere," said Tippens, who was inspired to use his truck as a garden by the movie "Truck Farm." "The truck farm is a container. We just put in the fall crop of mustard greens, kale, cabbage, broccoli and lettuce."
He said some Chattanooga families have to decide whether to pay utilities or buy food at the end of the month, so gardening is a good solution to their financial problems. He focuses on teaching low-income families how to garden, using discarded lumber, chicken wire and burlap sacks to form a basket gardening bed in the bed of his truck.
The original truck farm began in Brooklyn, N.Y, but all truck farmers use their own gardening strategies, according to him.
"You can stretch your food budget several hundred dollars per year if you grow your own food," said Tippens, who will soon have mustard greens to harvest. "Fall is a great time to grow vegetables."
The food he grows goes to "whoever needs it."
Recently, Tippens showed children at New City Fellowship's afterschool program how to grow spinach inside a recyclable container. He mixed soil, bone meal, kelp meal and spinach seeds in each container and helped students water the plants. He showed the students that broccoli, cabbage, collard greens and spinach are growing in the box garden at the church.
"To be able to add fresh vegetables adds nutrition to the meal," said Tippens, who attends New City Fellowship. "That's one of the big problems in neighborhoods within the city. They don't have access to nutritious food. It's a food desert here."
He said New City has done a food pantry for 30 years, but churches can only help so much, which is why he wants to encourage people to grow their own food. He said Chattanooga residents should create community gardens in vacant lots to feed neighborhoods.
"Gardening is health care reform," said Tippens. "It's a great method of improving the health of a family."
The truck farm is a new addition to Tippens' nonprofit Fair Share. He began growing produce at New City Fellowship through the New City Roots campaign last spring.
"Farming has been a lifelong interest of mine," he said. "That's the beauty of growing food; you don't need a college degree. It's common sense. You need good soil, adequate sunlight and water."