Starting this month, local nonprofit Hope for the Inner City will begin recruiting an army of chickens to aid in the nonprofit's mission to bring fresh produce to low-income households, but recruiters say they still need community support.
Since early this summer, Hope for the Inner City has been asking community members for donations of $25 to sponsor laying hens whose fresh eggs would be sold to residents in East Chattanooga, which is still reeling from the loss of its last grocery store, Scarbrough's Produce, in 2015.
Now considered a food desert, the neighborhood's nearest supermarket is 3 miles away, making it that much more difficult for struggling families to bring healthy options to the table.
"You have to take three buses to get to a grocery store from this neighborhood," said Joel Tippens, director of Grow Hope Urban Farm, Hope for the Inner City's homegrown solution to bring food accessibility to the area.
Since starting as a summer youth program in 2014, Grow Hope Urban Farm has sprouted into a community-wide project that has provided fresh fruits and vegetables to those in East Chattanooga. The new "Chickens with a Mission" campaign will contribute to the enterprise by adding eggs to the list of products available, and more hens will be added as more donations come in.
As of press time, the nonprofit had raised $275, enough for 11 chickens. Its goal is to reach $1,500, which is enough for 60 hens.
The chickens, like the crops, will be tended by volunteers. Starting next February, however, young men from the surrounding neighborhoods will be trained to raise and market the produce, providing them with paid, hands-on experience as part of the nonprofit's workforce development program meant to stimulate economic development.
"It's providing jobs, it's providing food and it's also a business, so it's making money," said Josh Livingston, enterprise development director at Hope for the Inner City. Any money generated will be funneled back into the program to sustain it, he explained.
Livingston said the nonprofit is aiming to launch its market on Glass Street during the Chattanooga City Celebration & Ciclovia Oct. 8. Market organizers will also be working with neighborhood associations to determine the best platform to sell the produce, though Tippens said preliminary community surveys and word of mouth have indicated locals would be interested in a permanent weekly farmers market on Glass Street.
"We really want to be able to take advantage of a collaborative partnership with all the effort that's going on there in the Glass Street business district revitalization," Tippens said. "There's already a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and it just seems like a real obvious and good central location for setting up a permanent market."
With the acquisition of an Electronic Benefits Transfer system, the market will be able to accept payment through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the former food stamps program, which the nonprofit reports 30-40 percent of the community depends on.
"For them to be able to see that they can access fresh, nutritious produce with their SNAP benefit, I think will be very significant," Tippens said.
To sponsor a hen, visit generosity.com/community-fundraising/chickens-with-a-mission-sponsor-a-hen.