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Staff file photo / Joel Tippens waters newly planted flowers at the East Main Street Community Garden in 2013. The garden was created by the Fair Share Urban Growers nonprofit organization to help combat area food deserts, and most of its vegetables are grown in soil and planters situated on top of a donated paved parking lot. Tippens is currently raising funds to establish the City Farms Urban Growers Coalition, with a goal of training people to plant microgardens in unused spaces like the Main Street lot throughout the city.

Empowering people in low-income neighborhoods through urban agriculture is a longtime passion for Joel Tippens, who's taught people to grow food everywhere from backyards and parking lots to tires and truck beds.

With the help of local nonprofit Causeway, he developed the idea for the City Farms Urban Growers Coalition, with a goal of training people how to create backyard and community gardens and how to train others to do the same.

To help fund this new venture, he launched a $5,000 fundraising campaign on GoFundMe Jan. 3. It had raised $1,785 as of press time.

Tippens envisions a community garden spread throughout the city, located in small patches of unused land at churches, schools, backyards and empty lots. The goal is to have a quarter- to half-acre in cultivation at all times, though it would be scattered across 12-15 different addresses, he explained.

Tippens plans to provide on-site training at The Bethlehem Center, a nonprofit learning center in Alton Park with programming focused on breaking the cycle of poverty.

An eventual goal is to hold a farmers market at the center. Through talking to people who've been working for years to solve the city's food-insecurity issues, he said he knows there's a demand for more farmers markets here, but not enough growers to meet the need.

His solution is training people to create microfarms wherever there's land available, which they can use to grow food for themselves along with excess they can sell to other people in the community.

"We're targeting folks that want to grow not only for their kitchen table but for their community," said Tippens. "I'll teach them how to grow so much more in a lot less space than you think you needed."

One problem he's seen with community gardens is that one person typically leads the effort, and if that person moves it can mean an end to the garden's success. Creating a coalition to share the labor and training responsibilities helps address that issue, Tippens said.

He also plans to teach people to compost and repurpose or recycle materials.

"There are so many ways to get people involved in very small-scale agriculture," he said.

By the end of February, he plans to use the funds to start seeding plants in a greenhouse on Chattanooga's west side. Tippens hopes to hold his first training sessions beginning in March..

Email Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com.

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