“A good community, as we know, insures itself by trust, by good faith and good will, by mutual help. A good community, in other words, is a good local economy.”
— Wendell Berry
As a recipient of The National Humanities Medal, American writer and activist Wendell Berry stuns modern-day Southerners with his prose on farming and environmental stewardship. A Kentucky native, Berry sets his narratives in quintessential Southern towns like the one he grew up in.
He also has roots in Chattanooga. In 1990, he became an elected member of Chattanooga-based Fellowship of Southern Writers, a literary organization founded in 1987 by 21 Southern writers and other literary luminaries. The University of Tennessee Chattanooga (UTC) also invited Berry to its campus in 2017 for a book signing.
Fusing Southern traditions with contemporary ideals, Berry has spent the last 60 years talking about how farmers contribute to the wellbeing of our community. Amid the pandemic, this topic is more relevant than ever.
Some Chattanooga farmers like Chi Farms owner Bates Reed are using empty grocery stores and social distancing as platforms to promote locally grown food and community-supported agriculture (CSA). Connecting farmers to consumers, Chi Farms is a CSA and meal delivery service that brings homegrown produce, handcrafted pottery and pre-made meals directly to its customers’ doors.
“I knew I wanted to create a service-based company that loves its community and brings people together through food,” Reed says.
A few months ago, Reed launched Chi Farms to support cottage industry owners and serve homebound locals. He has since built a loyal customer base, spanning across the Chattanooga area and beyond including Dalton, Rossville and Cleveland.
“We're reaching out to cottage industry partners and delivering their items around town, whether it be handcrafted pottery, strawberry-rhubarb jam or local honey. We want to help boost the economy by giving small farmers another way to make a living,” Reed says.
Fresh farm eggs from grass-fed hens are one of the many gems in Chi Farms’ CSA basket. In rural Red Bank, Reed regularly visits his cousin’s farm to retrieve the eggs and sell them to customers.
“These eggs are fresh from a farm – not a factory. And you can taste the difference,” Reed says.
For him, farming and family go hand-and-hand. Born and raised in Chattanooga, Reed recalls vivid childhood memories of his grandmother’s 3-acre garden outside of Hixson. That's where he first saw the fruits of his labor.
Reed and his business partners have grown into a family of farmers who trust each other and their products. They aim to teach others to trust the food they eat too, by providing organic and healthy food options at an affordable cost. And every week, Chi Farms donates homemade soup and CSA boxes to people in need.
“The sad part is so many people don't have the money to eat healthily. So, where do they go with their dollar? A fast food place,” Reed says.
Before Chi Farms, Reed worked on intentional farming communities for over a decade, learning about different culinary cultures all over the country. Those experiences inspired him to want to duplicate CSA businesses like Chi Farms in other communities.
Community and conversations start around the dinner table. Going forward, Reed works to reestablish farm-to-table values that we’ve lost, especially during a time when many are still isolated.
“Food is going to be what brings us back to our sense of community. When I make a delivery, I can tell that people are looking for good-neighborliness again,” Reed says.
To learn more about CHI Farms or sign up for the CSA box, visit them here.