2023 Community Inspiration Winner: Fresh Produce for All
Battlefield Farm/Harvest Fellowship won the Community Inspiration award for their innovative veggie delivery project to a food desert in Knoxville, Tennessee. With just 10 members, this tiny congregation retrofitted a truck named “Fannie Lou” to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to an area of Knoxville where residents have no access to fresh produce.
Here’s the story from the pastor of this tiny congregation, Pastor Chris Battle:
“The 37915 zip code of East Knoxville, Tennessee is a food desert – meaning there are no grocery stores selling fresh food within the area. It is also a fast food swamp – meaning there’s plenty of fast food available, which is not the most nutritious option. Roughly half of all individuals living with the 37915 zip code do not have access to vehicles, making it exceedingly difficult for them to drive outside the area to purchase fresh groceries.
The inspiration for “Fannie Lou” began with a truckload of sweet potatoes donated to Battlefield Farm. We put up a Facebook notice that free potatoes could be picked up at our address, and within 2 hours, those potatoes had disappeared. However, “the Potato Problem” arose when we realized that while we had demonstrated the deep need, we had not reached the neediest—those without access to the internet and those without personal transportation. We looked for some way to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to those most in need.
Battlefield Farm was started with a mission to grow fresh food in the food desert, and to find a way to bring that food to those with the least access. Despite the Battlefield Farm congregation being tiny- just 10 members! – and lacking funding, we were determined to get fresh fruits and vegetables to those in the East Knoxville food desert who are most in need.
The main challenges we faced were where to find sufficient fruits and vegetables, and how to get produce to the needy. While a veggie truck could be a solution, the prices for used and new trucks are quite high and Battlefield Farm lacked sufficient funding to purchase a used food truck or other similar vehicle. Any vehicle would also have to be fitted out to dispense fruits and vegetables.
In addition, a reliable supply of fresh vegetables was needed. While Battlefield Farm produces some fruits and vegetables, its harvest was not large enough or steady enough to meet the anticipated demand so additional reliable sources of quality produce were needed.
After pricing used vehicles, Battlefield Farm approached Emerald Youth Foundation and asked if they had a passenger truck coming off line which might be fitted out as a fruit and vegetable truck. The Foundation offered one at a discounted price, and Battlefield Farm was able to purchase it. Battlefield Farm then had the truck rebuilt on the inside, by raising funds, by using donated work and by obtaining donated equipment.
While the Farm had some produce that it could use, it was not sufficient. Battlefield Farm
approached Nourish Knoxville, the non-profit managing some local farmers’ markets, about produce. Nourish Knoxville was inspired to obtain a grant for purchasing excess market produce and donated that produce to the ‘veggie van’. The local food bank, Second Harvest, also donated produce.
The veggie van was christened “Fannie Lou” after Civil Rights activist and founder of the Freedom Farm Cooperative Fannie Lou Hamer. The van received a beautiful paint job with its name with the following quote, “If you give a hungry man food, he will eat it, but if you give him land, he will grow his own food.”
Beginning June 29, 2022, the veggie van began picking up produce from Second Harvest (local food bank), then picking up from the Wednesday farmers’ market, and with the van loaded, visiting two to three low-income housing projects to distribute free produce.
As soon as the van pulled up, lines formed and those who could walk would enter through the front door, walk down the aisle picking out their fruits and vegetables, then exit through the rear door. Volunteers assisted those with mobility problems to select their produce. Social service agencies used the opportunity to offer information on services.
By October 2022, over 1700 individuals with the least access to fresh groceries or to public transportation had been served fresh produce. Most are living on $20,000. or less, lack transportation, and have health issues.
One recipient said that “it has been years since I have had a fresh vegetable.”
Also, people connect easily over food and the veggie van has been able to connect residents with other services that they may need.
We roughly calculated for a three-month period the difference between the CO2 for 1700 trips to the market and the CO2 for the trips made by the veggie van. Our calculations estimate that 2.4 tons of CO2 was saved by this project.
A goal I have, is that we won’t need this bus anymore. Food would be accesible and affordable, right here in the community, because your zip code should not determine your access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”
IPL congratulates Battlefield Farm/ Harvest Fellowship congregation for their dedication to improving their community.
View an interview with Pastor Battle on the Knoxville News website.