Two metropolitan nonprofits are finding that fresh produce can mean a lot more to inner-city residents than just better nutrition.
"It's been about a lot more than just the food - it's an equalizer," Metropolitan Ministries Executive Director Rebecca Whelchel said in regards to a new community garden at the facility.
The on-site 60-foot raised bed fall garden provides "food for steal" for clients and local residents. The organization has planted okra, lettuce, spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens, rutabaga and carrots that are available for anyone to take, said Whelchel.
"Most of our clients don't have transportation," she said. "And when they use transportation money, it's not often going to be used to go and purchase organically grown produce."
The attempt to provide better nutrition for downtown residents has proven to do more than solve a dietary need. The garden has ignited a trend of local gardeners and drawn the community together, according to Whelchel.
"Folks are drawn to the garden and suddenly all types of people are expert gardeners or gathering around the garden exchanging recipes," she said.
Serving fresh produce can also boost resident morale, said Kristi Strode, director of the St. Andrews Center. A gleaning project organized by the Rev. Betsy Flory takes volunteers from the center to farms after a harvest and allows them to pick up food left on the ground or that which was missed by pickers. The St. Andrews Center then donates what can sometimes be hundreds of pounds of food to the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, said Strode.
"Moms and dads can take that food in the house and feel better about what they're feeding their families," she said.
To receive food from the Chattanooga Area Food Bank locals must first get a referral by contacting United Way of Chattanooga by dialing 2-1-1 or calling 265-8000.
Strode said that areas around town like Highland Park are considered food deserts because of their lack of grocery stores and produce stands. Because of transportation limitations many individuals are forced to shop for groceries at convenience stores that don't often sell nutrient-rich foods, she said.