Gaining Ground: Driving a Local Food Movement
Back before almost everything we could ever want was shipped to us by trucks, boats and planes, people used to live off of what they could obtain locally. While this meant there weren’t certain foods during certain times of the year, a consumer could be fairly sure of where their food came from. As the global economy took off, food became something of a traveling salesman coming into town from somewhere over the horizon and working its way into the stores. Now you can go to the store and buy strawberries, for instance, at almost any time of the year, and, while this is wonderfully convenient, it sometimes makes it difficult to know where your food is coming from.
In an attempt to increase the production and consumption of local foods provided by Chattanooga area farms, the Benwood Foundation launched, what they call, a food system reform effort. They have also developed a local food brand and are working with communities to make fresh produce available to urban area families that wouldn’t have access to it otherwise.
Funded by grants, coordination efforts and public awareness, the Gaining Ground movement has managed to help farmers get their products to local markets, to fund a farmers co-op and to develop a local food guide.
“We have 60 farms listed in our local food guide, and easily 100 more that aren’t listed in the guide, but are working through local distributors,” Program Director Jeff Pfitzer said. “There are about 1,500 farms in a 100 mile radius of us, so we have just begun to develop the market.”
This food guide is a project that the Gaining Ground movement plans to launch in the near future. It will serve as an online food guide for the area connecting farmers directly to chefs, and providing a map of the stores providing local produce in downtown Chattanooga.
“We’re in the process of opening the food guide, which should be populated by farmers within the next couple weeks,” Pfitzer said. “One of the interesting things we’ve found while talking to distributors is that a lot of traditional, locally grown produce is being distributed in the area, but isn’t being recognized as such.”
In an effort to promote awareness Gaining Ground has established a local food brand called Harvested Here. Any farm selling their goods within the 100 mile radius of Chattanooga can use this brand to promote their products whether they’re selling them through distributors or in the farmers markets.
Gaining Ground is also working to help areas called Food Deserts, urban neighborhoods with families unable to obtain, or to afford, fresh produce. The movement is currently working to help allow local farms to accept Food Nutrition Service Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP benefits for the purchase of their products.
“A large amount of Hamilton County deaths are directly linked to bad nutrition and eating poorly,” Pfitzer said. “We are working to promote healthy eating, and to increase availability to these areas. We are currently working to help develop community gardens through the area where people can grow their own produce, and we are working on a mobile farmers market that contains mostly fresh fruit and vegetables and drives routes through these areas. This way we can bring nutrition to them.”
The Benwood Foundation was founded in 1944 by George Thomas Hunter and has contributed to various organizations in the Cumberland region and beyond. They provide a balance of supporting and educating people on the necessity of conservation, while incentivizing the economic growth of the region.