In Hamilton County, where 28.6 percent of adults are obese, local advocates are tackling what they say is one of the root environmental problems of the obesity epidemic: Inability to access affordable, healthy foods.
On Thursday at Greenlife Grocery, the Gaining Ground program, initiated by the Benwood Foundation, awarded a total of $195,000 to four projects that seek to strengthen the local food system.
From helping local farmers packing their produce to strengthening local farmers' markets in urban centers, the projects aim to support a local food system that can improve overall health in Chattanooga, said Jeff Pfitzer, program director for Gaining Ground, which launched this year to fuel a local food movement in Chattanooga.
"We have four very strong winners who really in every way complement and reinforce one another's efforts to help strengthen the (local food) supply chain," he said. "Increasing the availability of fresh local food with all of its health benefits no question helps Chattanoogans of every income level to be able to address health issues such as obesity."
A local food movement is truly beginning to take hold in Chattanooga, said Padgett Arnold, coordinator of the Main Street Farmers' Market and one of the winners of the Food System Ideas Competition.
"I've been a farmer around Chattanooga for about six years now, so I've been observing," she said. "This market just came along at the right time, and the right place, to really just explode and be really well-received by the community."
FOOD SYSTEMS WINNERS
Gaining Ground, a program of the Benwood Foundation, announced four winners of its Food System Ideas Competition on Thursday.
* Main Street Farmers' Market: Support the development of the farmers' market and make it a resource for other local farmers.
* Chattanooga Chefs' Collaborative: Increase awareness and availability of seasonal and local food to Chattanooga chefs to help support a sustainable food system.
* Regional farmers' cooperative: Create a collaborative organization for Chattanooga-area farmers to boost production and profitability of local food; help farmers access larger markets and join together on equipment purchases.
* Food packaging/distribution support: Improve warehousing and distribution options for local farmers through packaging assistance and helping farmers access larger markets.
Her group's proposal aims to increase awareness about farmers' markets and make the Main Street Market a model for others to crop up across the city.
Another winner, Charlie Loomis, a chef at Greenlife Grocery, came up with a proposal to help bring greater awareness and availability of local foods to chefs in Chattanooga.
"Being chefs, they're passionate about food," Mr. Loomis said. "They want to have the best food. If you can get a tomato that was picked that day, or some lettuce picked that day, you're not going to get anything better than that."
Also on Thursday, Earth Fare on Gunbarrel Road held its weekly Family Dinner Night, which offers six free healthy meals for children for every adult meal purchased as a way to encourage healthy eating for kids. The event started in March.
This week the dinner night featured a talk from former NFL player Frank Murphy, who spoke about the importance of putting healthy foods in one's body.
Attendee Jessica Hansen, 31, said she stops by dinner night every week with her five children, ages 9 months to 9 years old.
"It's expensive to take the family out for dinners like this, and I like to focus on healthy foods," she said. "This is somewhere I'm happy to take my family."