OHF Voices: Andrea Jaeger & TasteBuds Magazine (Chattanooga, TN)

TasteBuds, administered by Crabtree Farms' Grow Chattanooga program
TasteBuds, administered by Crabtree Farms’ Grow Chattanooga program

Foodshed: “A foodshed is the area that includes where a food is produced, where it is transported, and where a food is consumed. It includes the land it grows on, the routes it travels, the markets it goes through, and the tables it ends up gracing.” (definition from about food)

Last week was a busy one! With this being my last semester of college, I’ve been trying to pack in as much exploration as possible. The ensuing adventures have mostly been within my local foodshed (Sewanee), and those surrounding. So what exactly is a foodshed? I will happily admit to using the term pretty frequently as a catch-all for the food, producers, transporters, and consumers in a given locale, but I think the definition above sums up pretty nicely. Your foodshed is your local food community, inclusive of the organic and inorganic (punny, I know). It’s a communal system of people and the land working together to feed us.

One adventure last week took me to Crabtree Farms, located just outside of downtown Chattanooga. I happened upon Crabtree Farms one night while grabbing dinner at the Mountain Goat Market in Monteagle. While waiting on my Tree Hugger sandwich (a favorite that I highly recommend to all you vegetarians out there), I picked up a magazine with the words “TasteBuds: Local Chattanooga Flavor” written across the cover of a beautiful photograph of herb bundles. I flipped through stories about healthy eating, localism, seasonal produce, soil health, edible landscaping, and delicious sounding recipes, all sprinkled with tantalizing food photos and gorgeous photos of farmers and the land. Towards the end of the magazine was a comprehensive directory of Chattanooga’s foodshed including local farms, markets, community gardens, restaurants, and related organizations. I was very taken with all of this, and flipped to the contents page to see who put together the awesomeness that was in my hands. This led to me to Crabtree Farms and Andrea Jaeger, the farm’s program coordinator and  TasteBuds’ program administrator.

I reached out to Andrea via email to see if she would be interested in meeting with me to share her story of food, farming, and publications. To my delight she responded with a time and date for a visit to Crabtree Farms.

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Last Monday morning, I jumped into my car after class and hit the road for Chattanooga. When I got to the city, I drove through a residential neighborhood near downtown and was 100% sure my GPS had lost it and had taken me somewhere completely off track. No way, I thought, could there be a farm that sources local restaurants downtown, runs a food publication, and offers workshops and classes, hiding somewhere amongst these houses and sidewalks. Well, I was wrong. A few funky turns later, I found myself on a dead end road that led to the front gate of Crabtree Farms. After parking, I headed to the office to meet Andrea. She gave me a tour of the grounds, and then we sat at a nearby picnic table for a chat.

Andrea Jaeger, Program Coordinator at Crabtree Farms
Andrea Jaeger, Program Coordinator at Crabtree Farms

E: So, what’s Crabtree’s story?

A: The land we’re on has been agricultural for 100s of years. It was donated some time ago to the city, under the condition that it would remain agricultural. In 1998, our founders approached the city with the hopes of starting a farm, which worked out and we now have a 30 year lease on these 22-acres for about $1.00 a year.

Crabtree Farms
Crabtree Farms, main building
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The farm

E: $1.00 a year? That is crazy, but so awesome! What a rich agricultural background. Now, what’s your story? How did you get involved with the farm?

A: I love nature, and have always kept my eyes open to the world to stay connected. I grew up in Toledo, Ohio, and went to college at Ohio State University. There I was involved with Local Matters, a non-profit organization which does similar work to Crabtree Farms’ Grow Chattanooga program. After graduating, I moved and was looking for ways to get involved. I came to a volunteer day here at Crabtree Farms, and I enjoyed it so much that I interned for them, and have been here ever since. This will be my 4th year with the farm.

E: From what I can tell, the internship program is very comprehensive, with interns having the chance to work both in the field and in the office with TasteBuds. What would you say is TasteBud’s role?

A: Our mission is really to increase production and consumption of locally grown foods within 100 miles of Chattanooga. We publish twice a year, in April and August, and in preparation we recruit partners, and decided what articles to present and who will write them. Crabtree’s staff manages the Grow Chattanooga program, of which TasteBuds is a part.

E: To me, TasteBuds is part of another avenue of the good food fight, and that is getting the word out there. For those who are passionate about local food systems, but may not necessarily want to be farmers, I think working with publications, like TasteBuds, offers a great way to have a meaningful impact. What are your thoughts on this, since you engage both sides, being the farm and the magazine?

A: TasteBuds is an excellent way for folks in the local food community to tell their story. I hear from so many people that they found out about this or that farm or food business by flipping through TasteBuds. It makes me feel good knowing that we’re helping to take some of the marketing burden off partners in the program so they can focus on producing good food for our community. What’s more, we use TasteBuds as a platform to talk about food related issues and to inform our readers about what’s going on in Chattanooga’s local food movement. There’s a lot of work to be done, and I welcome anyone who wants to help!

E: What advice would you give to those wanting to get into farming and food systems work?

A: Internships and volunteering are really great ways to get involved, get trained, and to get to know the farmers. While most opportunities are unpaid, some farms will offer work trade or barter, where in return for your work you get a season’s subscription to the farm’s CSA program, or you get to take home “seconds” produce.

Inside one of the greenhouses
Inside one of the greenhouses

I think the best advice I can give is to just be open. Put yourself out there, start networking and getting connected. There are so many ways to plug into the local food scene- you just need to get the conversation started.

E: That really is great advice, especially in today’s world where connections are made all the more easy through technology.

So, I’ve been playing with the idea of ‘foodsheds’ and the role that the concept plays in local food systems, which seems to underlie the winter issue’s focus on local eating and soil health, and is definitely embodied by the local food guide. How would you describe a “foodshed”?

A: A foodshed is the network of the people who grow and raise food, those who process and who distribute that food, and of course the people who eat it. We live in a globalized world, where we ship in food s from all over the place. While this helps us enjoy certain products year round that we’d otherwise wouldn’t have here, it comes at a cost to the environment and to the quality of foods we eat.

By shrinking our foodshed and eating foods grown or raised closer to home, not only will we be able to enjoy fresher products and minimize our global footprint, we’ll also support local farmers and keep our food dollars within the local economy.  We’re in a region that used to be super industrial, but now there’s a chance that small-scale sustainable agriculture can transform the city- the region even. And that’s pretty exciting!

E: Crabtree Farms, Grow Chattanooga and TasteBuds are definitely some of the key pieces in that transformation you’re describing. So, if someone would like to get involved in all this awesomeness that’s going on here, what are some of the opportunities open to them?

A: We accept volunteers all the time, and host interns in the office and out in the farm.There’s definitely something for everyone! An intern can do everything from photography and writing articles, to recruiting and helping farmers. It’s also a neat opportunity for people interested in communications, but who are also outdoors-minded. Each day on the farm is different, and there’s always lots of stuff to do.

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Whimsical signs

E: Awesome! With the amount of programming and projects you all do I’m sure you’ll be seeing many applications for the upcoming season. Any fun facts about the farm?

A: See that thing over there? It’s a trebuchet for chuckin’ pumpkins during our Pumpkin Smash fall harvest festival, and it’s a lot of fun! Next year we plan to have multiple teams from local engineering firms out here competing to see who can build the best trebuchet. It should be interesting!

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The trebuchet, aka the pumpkin chucker

Needless to say, my visit to Crabtree Farms was wonderful. It was a pleasure meeting Andrea, hearing her story, and learning about the history of the farm and all that it does in the local and regional communities. For those interested in farming, programming, or communications, definitely check out the opportunities available through Crabtree Farms. If that doesn’t pique your interest, the Chattanooga local food scene is ripe with opportunities for gastronomic adventures. Whatever you choose, it’s all good, and it’s also all in the foodshed.

E

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