By next spring, more than $250,000 will have been spent on nutrition education and planting at least 50 community gardens in inner-city communities.
The goal is to curtail obesity-related illnesses by supplying people with fruits and vegetables, but some residents say it might be more helpful to have a grocery store where they could buy healthy food in their neighborhoods.
"I am a strong supporter of community gardens," said Avondale resident James Moreland. "I'm also a strong supporter for a first-class grocery store so that people can buy fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the year. That's the only way you're going to deal with childhood obesity."
Moreland is among several Chattanooga residents petitioning for grocery stores and gardens to improve accessibility to fresh produce for inner-city residents.
There are 7,776 people in Bushtown/Highland Park, and another 8,117 in the East Chattanooga community bordering Bushtown, but neither area has a full-service grocery.
There are about 4,700 people in Alton Park and it has no grocery store either, said John Bilderback, manager for Step ONE, a nutrition/fitness program from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.
In the meantime, obesity plagues 70 percent of blacks in East Chattanooga and South Chattanooga, which includes Alton Park, according to the health department. Both communities also battle disproportionately high rates of diabetes and hypertension.
Only Alton Park residents can have community gardens after participating in gardening classes. However, the classes are open to anyone. To participate in the class, call 266-1384, ext. 15. Gardening classes will begin in December, with gardens scheduled to be installed in March.
The Benwood Foundation will assist the V-Team Health Network in installing 25 community gardens throughout Alton Park this spring. The Chattanooga Hamilton County Health Department has contributed to the following community gardens.
* Alton Park Development Corp./Calvin Donaldson Elementary
* Christ United Methodist Church
* Spalding Elementary School
* East Chattanooga Weed and Seed
* St. Alban's Episcopal Church
* St. Luke United Methodist Church
* The Montessori School
* Wallace A. Smith Elementary School
* Downtown YMCA
* Battle Academy
* Chattanooga Area Food Bank
* Creative Discovery Museum
* East Chattanooga Weed & Seed
* Alton Park Development Corp.
* Piney Woods Family Resource Center
* South Chattanooga Recreation Center
* St. Andrews Center & Highland Park Commons
* St. Peter's Episcopal School
* Stuart Heights Neighborhood
* The Shiny Penny Child Care Center
Eating processed and fast foods to compensate for a lack of access to fresh foods is part of the problem, Moreland said.
While a community garden yields produce in the summer and fall, a grocery store provides year-round food for the entire community, he said.
But funding is needed to attract grocery store investors, he said, and investors like to see a partnership between local governments, health groups and foundations before they put their money into a community.
"That partnership says to the investor, 'It's not just me spending, but there are some other incentives that encourage me to invest in this area,'" Moreland said.
There is an "onslaught" of community gardens being planned right now, said Bilderback. It would be good if the organizers could combine resources to provide one big community garden, he said, and the fruit and vegetables from such a garden could be sold at a neighborhood produce stand.
A grocery store is a long-term goal, but a produce stand is more in reach, especially with all the gardening experience gained in the Alton Park community, Bilderback said.
The faith-based agency Bethlehem Center is planning 25 community gardens in Alton Park this spring. The center's V-Team Health Network is asking Alton Park residents to participate in gardening classes starting in December. Classes also will teach about canning and protecting produce from insects.
In March, the participants will plant community gardens in their yards. The Benwood Foundation is funding the project and Master Gardeners from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga will assist, said Lurone "Coach" Jennings, executive director of the Bethlehem Center.
Raised planting beds will be built to make sure they are free of contaminants, and even disabled people can sit on the edge of the garden and plant and harvest produce, said Jennings, who is also pastor of Bethlehem-Wiley United Methodist Church.
Alton Park resident Delphine Jones said she's looking forward to attending the classes and having a garden.
"I love to raise good vegetables and I want to help the community and myself," she said.
Contact Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423-757-6431.