This Urban Farm in Chattanooga Is Growing Community Through Gardening - (2024)

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Crabtree Farms fosters food access and hands-on education through their agricultural-related programs.

By Michele Herrmann on November 10, 2023

This Urban Farm in Chattanooga Is Growing Community Through Gardening - (1)

Crabtree Staff

More than produce is grown at Crabtree Farms, a nonprofit sustainable urban farm in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This community-focused mission not only provides locals with access to fresh vegetables and green space but also teaches them about agriculture firsthand.

The seeds of what would become Crabtree Farms originated in 1998 when the Crabtree family gifted a 22-acre plot of land to the City of Chattanooga under the condition that the use would be agriculturally.

“At the same time, there was a group of local young folks who were interested in starting an urban farm,” said Executive Director Melonie Lusk.

This Urban Farm in Chattanooga Is Growing Community Through Gardening - (2)

Julie Ellison

All parties involved came together, and a 30-year lease was signed with the city that would start this now 25-year-old farm. Today, Crabtree Farms is run by an administrative staff, with separate teams maintaining its urban farm and greenhouse. Its purpose is rooted in engagement through programming that connects the farm’s neighboring population to its campus.

One initiative is a community gardening program that began in part through working with area nonprofits for help in breaking past language or culture barriers. An advisory committee was formed with the stipulation that one-half of its members reside within the farm’s immediate neighborhood. Art projects were also integrated into planning.

Joining the program is done through an application process, with paperwork in both English and Spanish, followed by an orientation. Organic soil and plant starts in the spring and fall are provided.

“There aren’t any regulations on what they can grow, but we do ask for non-GMO seeds,” said Lusk. “And we ask all participants to follow our growing guidelines, which are essentially not certified organic, but organic methods of growing.”

This Urban Farm in Chattanooga Is Growing Community Through Gardening - (3)

Crabtree Staff

In 2021, the program introduced 30 4’x8’ raised garden beds. Additionally, there are larger ground plots for the farm’s community partners to use with their clientele and communal growing spaces within the community gardens for wildflowers and larger crops like corn, gourds and melons.

Board member and volunteer Papae Litchfield has one of them. She learned about Crabtree Farms through an article about them hosting high school students on field trips to impart the importance of growing one’s food. “My childhood passion for farming and the farm’s emphasis on education and land access resonated with me, and I wanted to be a part of that,” said Litchfield.

With the community gardening program, Litchfield explained that “more than half of the beds are gifted to the Latinx neighbors of the farm who have never had land access before. The remaining beds are leased to community members who pay an annual fee.”

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Crabtree Staff

Monthly potluck dinners encourage participants to prepare their native dishes with what they’ve harvested. “People have grown items native to their lands that has done well here, and I have had the opportunity to enjoy those items,” said Litchfield. “I have also been able to share gardening tips and items such as Swiss chard, kale, and peppers.”

WorkShare, another volunteer program, has participants working alongside the urban farm or greenhouse staff. In return, they earn a food box from the farm every other week.

Some participants are enrolled in a local Master Gardeners program, and their hours go toward their certification requirements. Others have gone on to start their own farm or related micro businesses.

“We also have some new people that are just interested in getting their hands in the dirt for the first time,” said Lusk.

Children, too, connect with the farm. Along with coordinating their own staff-led field trips and youth activities, Crabtree Farms hosts Nature Kin Forest and Farm School on the farm campus four days per week and a local homeschool group every Friday morning.

“We are excited for these partnerships that allow more children to experience the urban farm setting,” said Lusk.

To raise funding, Crabtree Farms conducts plant sales and has a seasonal farm stand selling their produce and goods from other farms. Their onsite Evelyn Center can be rented out for meetings, weddings and other events.

Held in June, 100 Dinner is a significant fundraiser as this farm-to-table multi-course meal is prepared onsite by local culinary talent and with ingredients sourced from within 100 miles of Chattanooga. “We partner with some of the best chefs in town,” said Lusk. “The menu will change every year, but it’s based on seasonal, local produce and local meats and cheeses.”

Upcoming plans include an emerging farmer program that will allow Crabtree Farms to support those interested in trying their hand at farming as a career within an urban center. The application process will open in 2024.

Lusk would like to see even more local neighbors utilizing the farm. “But I hope the diversity of folks that we see on the farm continues to grow at the rate it has over the last several years. And I hope that we can increase land access and opportunities for our most immediate neighbors who want to utilize the land for food production.”

Litchfield also believes that Crabtree Farms has a significant positive impact. “It is a valuable asset that contributes to the overall well-being and resilience of the Chattanooga community.”

This Urban Farm in Chattanooga Is Growing Community Through Gardening - (2024)


This Urban Farm in Chattanooga Is Growing Community Through Gardening - ›

This Urban Farm in Chattanooga Is Growing Community Through Gardening. Crabtree Farms fosters food access and hands-on education through their agricultural-related programs. More than produce is grown at Crabtree Farms, a nonprofit sustainable urban farm in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

What zone is Chattanooga Tennessee in for gardening? ›

According to the 2023 USDA Hardiness Zone Map Chattanooga, Tennessee is in Zones 7b (5°F to 10°F), 7b (5°F to 10°F), 8a (10°F to 15°F) and 8a (10°F to 15°F). This is a change from the 2012 USDA Hardiness Zone Map which has Chattanooga in Zones 7a (0°F to 5°F) and 7b (5°F to 10°F).

Why do urban farms adapt to their city environment? ›

By producing food on unused land in cities, urban agriculture can reduce the amount of land needed for rural agriculture. When agriculture takes advantage of unused space in cities, it can directly reduce carbon emissions since foods grown in or near cities travel shorter distances.

What is community urban farming? ›

Urban agriculture includes the cultivation, processing, and distribution of agricultural products (food or non-food) in urban and suburban areas. Urban farming can provide environmental, economic, and social benefits to the surrounding communities.

What is the difference between urban agriculture and community gardening? ›

Home and community gardeners typically grow food for their own consumption, donation, or limited nonprofit sales. Community gardens typically engage a number of stakeholders. Urban farms operate on a larger scale than community gardens, grow produce for sale, and often require a business license to operate.

What gardening zone is middle TN? ›

It shows that most of Middle Tennessee is now in zone "7b" instead of "7a." That means more perennial plants are surviving our winter. Nearly half of the United States is in a different zone after the maps changed for the first time in a decade.

What zone is East Tennessee for growing? ›

Knowing your hardiness zone is required to choosing plants that can survive and thrive. If you choose plants that are not hardy in your zone, you'll end up frustrated and disappointed. Plus you would have spent money with little to no yield. East Tennessee spans several zones, including 6a, 6b, 7a, and 7b.

What are 3 benefits of urban farming? ›

In addition to nutritional benefits, urban agriculture activities also support physical and mental health, and well-being benefits. Gardening and farming activities promote physical activity, time spent outdoors, and cognitive stimulation through engaging with nature (Rees-Punia et al., 2017; Suto et al., 2021).

What crops are grown in urban farms? ›

Urban agriculture can include community gardens; larger scale urban farms or orchards; growing vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices for market; raising chickens or livestock and keeping bees. It also may include growing flowers and non-food crops for landscaping and other uses.

What are two ways an urban garden can improve a local urban community? ›

Urban agriculture contributes to public health and wellbeing by generating access to healthy food, promoting nutrition education, and creating opportunities for exercise.

How does an urban farm work? ›

Not every urban farm has to be at the owner's house; some urban farmers lease land and work the soil in other backyards, utilize rooftops or even farm indoors. Unlike a personal garden, an urban farmer grows to feed the community, sometimes selling it for little or no profit.

How does urban farming help the poor? ›

One of the main benefits of urban agriculture is that food is produced locally, allowing people in urban areas a higher level of food security and self-sufficiency. O'Hara said that for many urban populations, “it's not only about food security and food access, but rather nutrition security and nutrition access.

Is there money in urban farming? ›

The average urban farm sees sales of just under $54,000 a year, according to the survey, although hydroponic operations earn more than double that and rooftop farms one-sixth of it. That modest paycheck may be why 1 in 3 urban farmers reported earning their living from their farms.

How effective is urban gardening? ›

A pathway to climate resilience

And more vegetation also means less carbon in the atmosphere, improved air quality and stormwater runoff that is properly managed. Urban gardens also provide a healthy habitat for non-human neighbors like pollinators and birds.

What is an urban community garden? ›

Urban gardens are any gardens that exist in an urban setting, while community gardens are located in public spaces or commonly-held land and shared. Community gardens may be individual plot gardens where each person has their own space in which they grow food and they personally maintain.

What is the job description of an urban farmer? ›

Job Summary

Urban farming involves strenuous physical work in all weather conditions. Examples of daily activities include bed preparation, transplanting, seed sowing, watering, weeding, tilling, thinning, composting, harvesting, produce handling, storage, some minor construction and marketing.

What planting zone is Hixson, TN? ›

2023 Hardiness Zone:Zone 8a: 10°F to 15°F Zone 7b: 5°F to 10°F
Koppen-Geiger Climate Zone:Cfa - Humid Subtropical Climate
Ecoregion:67f - Southern Limestone/Dolomite Valleys and Low Rolling Hills
Current Drought Status:Exceptional Drought
Heat Zone Days:61 - 90 days Over 86°F
4 more rows

What are the zones in Tennessee? ›

Zones in the state include 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b and 8a.

What climate zone is Tennessee? ›

Most of Tennessee is in the Humid Subtropical climate type, while higher elevations are in the Oceanic/Highland climate type. Extremely small areas over 6,000' in elevation may be considered part of the Humid Continental (Dfb) climate type.

What winter zone is Tennessee? ›

With the new update, Tennessee is now in the 7B Zone when it used to be in the 7A Zone.

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