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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture
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From ‘Music City’ to ‘Food City’: Nashville Grows Urban Farming Community

March 20, 2014 |

Urban Green Labs strives to encourage sustainability through local food cultivation. Photo courtesy of Urban Green Labs.

Urban Green Labs strives to encourage sustainability through local food cultivation. Photo courtesy of Urban Green Labs.

Nashville’s urban agriculture scene continues to grow.

in 2009, Nashville’s zoning ordinance was amended to allow both commercial and noncommercial community gardens as a permitted use or special exception use in certain residential districts.

And in early 2014, the Metropolitan Council, which governs the city of Nashville and Davidson County, approved an ordinance to expand the ability of county residents to keep backyard hens. The measure removed a previously attached sunset provision and expanded the legislation to be effective countywide and to include all districts.

“The 630,000 residents of Metro Nashville now have the opportunity to keep hens and enjoy fresh, local eggs,” says Jennifer Tlumak, executive director of Urban Green Lab,  a Nashville nonprofit dedicated to improving the health and well being of the city through sustainability.  Urban Green Lab offers workshops that cover everything from green building to urban agriculture. Overall, the organization strives to spark positive changes at home and at work that will save money, improve health and conserve resources.

“Through partnerships with local businesses, government and nonprofits, we expand our reach in offering this needed service, and team with local colleges to monitor our impact,” Tlumak says. “Workshops in the fall included backyard hens, food labeling and food preservation techniques.”

Along with policy changes and Urban Green Lab’s work, the city also continues to foster a positive atmosphere that’s helped new urban agriculture-focused organizations grow.

For example, Nashville Grown is a new organization dedicated to building a local food system where most food is grown within a 100-mile radius of the city. It works to achieve this goal through urban farming education, connecting farmers with available land, coordinating growers with buyers through a food hub, assisting in food distribution, and helping to brand and market restaurants that support local farms.

Community Food Advocates is another Nashville nonprofit working to build the local food system through monthly “seed money suppers” which provide micro-grants to projects that need a boost to help make their new sustainable food/agriculture idea a reality.

“This is one of the many projects in support of its mission to end hunger and create a healthy, just, and sustainable food system,” says Tlumak.

Private urban farming-focused businesses are also establishing themselves in Nashville. Jeffrey Orkin, a young Nashville entrepreneur, recently secured a 6,000-square-foot warehouse in the city to house Greener Roots Farm, a hydroponics project.

“He hopes to help feed a rapidly growing urban population with local leafy greens packed with nutrition,” Tlumak says.

Another example is Nashville Foodscapes, owned by Jeremy Lekich. The business transforms traditional, turf lawns into areas that are packed with edibles.

The farming system in Nashville also has the support of Local Table, a quarterly magazine distributed online and in print. The publication recognizes and celebrates local food and the people who bring the food to the table.

“With restaurant guides, farm guides, recipes and stories, Local Table helps consumers navigate choices and support the local food system,” says Tlumak.

According to Tlumak, Nashville is in the midst of a renaissance of interest and support for locally produced food.

“From more local breweries and an urban farm that grows hops to supply Yazoo’s ‘Bells Bend Preservation Ale.’ to large gains in the popularity and numbers of CSAs and farmer’s markets, to businesses  selling wholesale and retail sustainable seafood and hand-carved local meats, Nashville has, indeed, been bitten by the sustainable food and agriculture bug,” Tlumak says.

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