How Grow Hope Farm is setting the table for a healthier, more natural future
What if we as a community could feed the hopeless, the hungry, the homeless, and just the everyday person with free or affordable high nutrient based fresh fruit and vegetables, or teach them to grow their own food? What if we could put an end to GMO’s, exploited workers, mono-cropping, low quality produce, ingesting harmful chemicals, destroying the remaining top-soil that exists on our planet, harming Earth beyond repair, and world hunger? Well, that is exactly what the local Chattanooga nonprofit organization Fairshare-Grow Hope Farm is focusing on as an organization.
As opposed to charity, Grow Hope Farm was developed to focus on empowering youth by teaching them procedures that will help them become self-sustainable, however, as time progressed, situations changed, and new players emerged, Grow Hope Farm would transform into something that possesses the potential to pave the way toward local, regional, national, and eventual worldwide change.
Joel Tippens is a humanitarian that has a background in youth development via gardening. With ties that he gained through church functions, he came to know the people involved with the local Chattanooga non-profit, Hope for the Inner City, or HFTIC. As the two powers united, Grow Hope Farm was born. HFTIC granted Grow Hope permission to establish a farm on their property site, in order to work together to initiate an inner city youth gardening program in Chattanooga. Something beautiful was planted, and hope began to grow.
Despite a tremendous effort, Joel would eventually part ways with Grow Hope Farm. He would leave it up to his board members to carry to the torch, and keep hope alive. Remaining members Elizabeth Tallman, and Rondell Crier knew that they needed to make something happen in order for them to stay intact as an organization, and that it was in their best interest to recruit new board members. As an original board member, Elizabeth Tallman refused to give up on Grow Hope Farm, and was determined to make an impact with their cause. She believed in the hope that lived inside of the organization and fought assiduously to keep it afloat. Elizabeth started by looking inside of local gardening organizations when she would discover an organization called the Free Community Garden Project, and co-creator Sunshine Hampton.
The Free Community Garden Project was a local organization that was formed by a small group of motivated friends that had a collective dream to make Chattanooga a city that feeds itself. As a developer of the project, Sunshine Hampton had always been interested in gardening throughout her life, but it was not until the weight of the commercialized food industry started to crush her spirit that she decided to do something about it.
She was a single mother that was working fifty plus hours a week as an LPN to support her family. She was making a decent wage, but was still scraping to get by due to the daunting food costs. It was nearly impossible for her to get organic food because generic foods alone were very costly. As her eyes widened, she would realize just how disheveled the food system had become, and decided that she was going to figure out how to make an impact.
Sunshine started to grow food at her own home, with a goal to grow sixty-five percent of her family’s food. Driven by determination, she would stop at nothing to find the most effective way to meet her goal. After much research, Sunshine would learn about permaculture, and how essentially it was a solution based science to feed people. She would go to school to get certified in Permaculture design, and follow her dreams. She would effectively produce a working permaculture and aquaponics system at her house, and produce food for her family.
Grow Hope found their new board member in Sunshine, and hope endured; she brought a sense of rejuvenation to the non-profit. Not only was she intelligent, driven, and skilled in the process of urban farming, but she also had a light inside of her that was noticeably blinding, and a small army of friends supporting her, which developed an instant volunteer base for Grow Hope Farm. With a renewed momentum in the organization, partnerships with HATponics, and Edge Domes, Grow Hope began building a dome based aquaponics system.
The Chattanooga Area Food Bank have always been supporters of Grow Hope’s mission, and have consistently donated to them usage of their Westside Greenhouse. Although the board and volunteer base was thriving, the majority of the efforts would fall on the shoulders of Elizabeth and Sunshine.
The greenhouse needed constant watering and monitoring for it to function properly, and the duo made it their top priority to manage the task. For the duration of its operation, they put their personal lives on hold in order to ensure success, and attend both the farm and green house upwards of 4 times daily. While it seems like a daunting task, they would do it with a smile on their face. It needs to be clear that they were acting as volunteers, and receiving absolutely no financial support for their actions. They did it because they believed that they could make a difference.
Through the dome based aquaponics system, the green house, and the urban farm site, Grow Hope was gaining some serious momentum. The aquaponics system still lacked a few intricate parts to work properly; a custom built cover was needed to insulate the dome, and aquaponics essentials such as PVC, gravel, and fish were needed to make the magic happen. They were relying on their annual plant sale to help them gain the financial means to make it flow.
With relative success at the plant sale, Grow Hope raised enough money to turn their dreams into reality. As plans finalized and motion began to advance in a positive direction, Grow Hope would receive devastating news that HFTIC suddenly decided to discontinue the land use agreement with their organization, which effectively halted all progress.
According to Sunshine Hampton, “Not everybody wants to grow their own food, but that’s ok. Statistics show that if merely ten percent of the population would grow their own food that we could effectively feed our entire population, and severely reduce the detriment being caused by our food system. Urban farming, permaculture, and aquaponics are all viable solutions to change the way that we are being fed as humans. If people in cities could unite to follow our program, it would put an end to food being shipped across the planet among other things. It really is not that difficult, it just takes likeminded people that are inspired, and willing to take action to move our food system in a more sustainable direction. Change has to start somewhere, so why not right here in Chattanooga?”
The motto of Fairshare- Grow Hope Farms, and the Free Community Garden Project has always been “Partnering to Make Chattanooga the City That Feeds Itself” Partnering being the key word. With all of the community gardens and local organizations that focus on growing and distributing locally grown food in Chattanooga, we have the ability to make something huge happen. The philosopher Rumi states that “alone we are but drops of rain, together we are an ocean”. This applies to all things in life, strength lies in numbers.
After speaking with Grow Hope about the recent turn of events, it is clear that their dreams will not die, and that hope continues to grow even in the face of adversity. Over the past year Grow Hope has been working closely with the CEO of HATponics Ryan Cox, and last month Jamie Brown, Executive Director of the HATponics Sustainability Initiative, joined the Board of Directors at Grow Hope. Discussions have already began regarding the future of Grow Hope, and the relocation of the Aquaponics Dome Project.
Hope, is empowerment. When people in urban environments learn how to be self-sustainable, they get the power to make change. Grow Hope is on a mission to become a catalyst by demonstrating an aquaponics system that can grow food by the thousands of pounds instead of hundreds, and developing a permaculture platform that can be mimicked and mirrored by cities all over the world to become the catalyst for the change that is ever so important for human kind.
Aquaponics is a process that combines hydroponics (a method of soil-less gardening) and aquaculture (farm raising fish) to grow fish and plants together. The waste that is produced by the fish gives nutrients to the plants, and purifies the water; it is a very effective way to rapidly grow high nutrient based food in any weather condition or location. A well designed aquaponics system can grow six times the amount of food per square foot than other farming methods.
Grow Hope has a vision that they have diligently been trying to reach. Their dream is to use the knowledge that they have gained about aquaponics, permaculture, and urban farming, and apply it to form a system that can be used to effectively feed the masses, with an emphasis on urban settings. Their goal is to develop a system that can teach and feed Chattanooga to become sustainable, and as the process develops, the hopes are for it to spread all over the entire planet. As concrete poured and hardened over their plant bed, Grow Hope pushed through the pavement and continues to grow in full bloom, producing fruits of inescapable hope.
For information on how to volunteer, reach out to Fairshare-Grow Hope Farm on Facebook, to donate go to gofundme.com/growhope. Also, don’t miss Sunshine Hampton’s permaculture demo at the 4 Tribes 4 Peace Festival at Cherokee Farm in Layfayette, Georgia this September. For more information please visit kindredofsangoma.org.