How the Farm to Table Movement is Feeding Tennessee’s Poor

The contents of this article are produced by Ashley Coffey

Greeneville, Tennessee – Some of the residents living in Tennessee are struggling to put food on the table for their families, but luckily there are people who are devoting their lives to make sure that Tennesseans no longer go to bed hungry. A recent 2016 study conduced by Feeding America has found that one out of six people living in Tennessee go without food every day. There are multiple factors that play into why people are having difficulties with food security. Poverty, lack of job opportunities, disabilities, and lack of resources are all causes that force people into going without food.

Carmen Ricker is the director at Greene County Community Ministries, which is a food bank located in Greeneville, Tennessee. Carmen discusses how the food bank is serving her community. (Video by Ashley Coffey) 

Children are starting back to school, and for some, this may be more of a lifesaver than many may realize. Over the summer months, it is difficult for children to find a consistent source of food. When children go back to school the have an opportunity for breakfast, lunch, and an afterschool snack, but this is contingent upon a family’s household income. For example if you have a household of three, then you have to make less than $37,296. For some children the opportunity that school provided meals gives to them keeps them fed during school hours at little or no cost to the parents.

During the summer, it is up to the parents of school age children to do what they can to make sure they are fed. Parents who are unable to provide food to their children have a number of outreach programs in Tennessee that are geared towards low-income families. Depending on the amount of income the parents make, families can go to local food banks in Tennessee.


Becky McInturff works with a woman who is signing up receive services from Greene County Ministries. (Photo by Ashley Coffey)

In Greeneville Tennessee, food banks work with families to provide them with multiple resources to find food in the future. These resources include connecting families to programs that teach parents and children how to grow their own produce from a garden, establishing relationships with local churches that participate in food drops, and help with setting up a monthly budget.


Benna Bennett is seen here working at the food bank making sure that customers are able to receive their needs. (Photo by Ashley Coffey)

Carmen Ricker is the director of Greene County Community Ministries. Carmen has dedicated her life to making sure that her community in East Tennessee is fed. “I don’t know what the community would do without it [Greene County Community Ministries]. At the end of the year, it’s unreal the number of meals that we’ve provided, over 200,000 meals,” said Carmen.


Rural Resources is working towards building a community kitchen so that families in the community have a place to prepare their meals. (Photo by Ashley Coffey)

Rhonda says, “I see adults go without so that their kids can eat. It’s everybody, of all ages, that are going without food.” In 2005, Rural Resources started a mobile market. People who have a low income and are on food stamps have a difficult time paying for gas to get to Rural Resources or a grocery store, let alone make enough money or have the means to produce a garden. Staffs at Rural Resources and volunteers gather produce to take to people who are disabled or without means to physically make their way to a grocery store.


Mobile Market bus takes food to residents in Greene County who are without means of transportation. (Photo by Ashley Coffey)

“We thought that if we can get it to them, if we can bridge the transportation gap, then they can at least have a choice. It’s not only a transportation problem, it’s a money problem,” said Sally. People who are living in government housing are fortunate to have Rhonda Hensley walk to through their door. Rhonda spends her life learning the needs of low-income families in order to better cater to their health.

“I feel like hey [low-income families] are societies rejects, their physical bodies are broken and bent,” said Rhonda. These handicapped people are unable to work; therefore, they are unable to make money to buy or make food.

Debbie Strickland knows what it is like to struggle with putting food on the table and the importance of having a garden. “I live in the poverty level of income, the only reason that I can get by is because I have a third of an acre garden that I take care of, and had it not been for that garden so that I have stuff throughout the winter, and have fresh stuff through the summer, I probably wouldn’t be eating as much fresh and local as I am. I am just fortunate enough to have the area at my parents house where we have the garden,” said Debbie.

Debbie is over the Teen Program at Rural Resources. She spends her time teaching teens when to harvest their food and how to prepare and preserve the produce. Overall, Rural Resources is making strides to make sure that Tennesseans have the resources they need to be able to eat healthy and have a resilient sense of food security.

Melissa Rebholz was a famer for Rural Resources until she started building an organization of her own. Since branching off on her own, Melissa now manages two gardens that can be seen from her front porch.


The River House Farm where Melissa hosts community dinners made from produce farmed from her gardens. (Photo by Ashley Coffey)

The River House Farm is a manifestation of Melissa’s vision of teaching people how to thoroughly enjoy and make the most of their garden. She runs a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) system, which gives people the ability to partake in locally grown food in exchange for their financial support.

Melissa Rebholz waters two of her gardens located on her river house property. (Video by Ashley Coffey)

Melissa is an Airbnb host where she houses and treats guests to farm-to-table produce meals. On Saturdays Melissa has a booth at a local farmers market where she sells produce and networks with other farmers. She hopes to be an inspiration to people by showing them that living a farming lifestyle reaps healthy benefits.


View from Melissa’s front porch of one of her gardens. (Photo by Ashley Coffey)

All of these means to aid Tennessee’s food security crisis are growing to reach more people throughout the state. Fortunately, there are people who are dedicating their lives to make sure that others have the ability to eat, and eat healthy. Helping to financially support local farmers aids in their efforts to provide food for the communities in Tennessee. Local food banks and churches in the area conduct food drives to further the distribution to food for those who are in need.


Melissa hopes to encourage her community members to look to farming for their food needs. (Photo by Ashley Coffey)

There are ways that members in the community can help. Volunteering at Rural Resources to help grow produce and organize outreach programs are one way to give back to the community.

These three ways can help to make sure that people in Tennessee no longer have to go to bed hungry. (Infographic by Ashley Coffey)

Helping to promote farm-to-table events, making connections between food banks and people in need and by generating donations, residents in Tennessee will have a better chance at having food security. Raising awareness to these organizations will aid in establishing a steady flow of food for those in need.

If you would like recipe ideas for buying food on a budget, then check out this Pinterest board!