Meet the Grow Hope Urban Farm. She’s kinda new in town.

There’s a farm at 1800 Roanoke Avenue behind the building Hope for the Inner City calls home. You can’t see it from the road, but maybe you’ve noticed some signs of activity in the summer months. It’s hard to miss the busloads of students dressed in blue jeans and dirt-covered t-shirts, or the clashing sounds of lawn mowers and weed eaters hidden from view. Grow Hope Urban Farm is a treasure hiding in plain sight.

Grow Hope is an urban agricultural initiative started in 2012. In 2015, Hope for the Inner City changed its focus to emphasize economic growth and development in East Chattanooga’s inner city. Urban Ministry Teams locally and nationally continued the work on farm projects but Hope for the Inner City saw the opportunity to use Grow Hope as part of its workforce development efforts. With the generous help of local churches, including our partners Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church and Signal Mountain Presbyterian, Invest Hope was born.

Invest Hope, directed by Clifford “AJ” Sanford, employs young and sometimes not so young men with barriers to the workforce. The program helps both adults and young adults overcome the many obstacles that create recurring joblessness by employing and training candidates in various skills. Invest Hope gives men the opportunity to learn basic business skills by participating in diverse programs, including the Grow Hope farm.

The candidates will engage in workforce development, learning soft skills like a healthy work ethic and hard skills like the techniques of urban farming. The goal is for the candidates to learn both sets of skills from the farm and apply them to their greater vocational pursuits. The initiative is set to begin fall 2018.  

In the meantime, Urban Ministry Teams are helping to facilitate summer projects that prepare the farm for the Invest Hope workers to take over in the fall. Joel Tippens, the director of Grow Hope, is busy with the current supervision of teams and preparing for the future of the farm. Future projects include planting fall vegetables, covering the greenhouse roof, receiving 30 additional young hens, and, of course, the collaboration with Invest Hope.

Joel elaborated on the partnership, speaking with excitement about the mutual benefits for both initiatives: “The candidates will discover that they’re not just learning skills that will help them with employment, but they’ll be providing outward facing services like wholesome food for the community.”

Wholesome food. For communities in East Chattanooga, wholesome food is not accessible because there are no grocery stores in the area—it is a food desert. Food desert? Joel explained, “There are community members without cars. If they have to get to the grocery store and they don’t have a ride, they have to take three buses, $1.50 each going there and back. It’s easier to catch a ride to a convenience store. Low-income families end up spending more money on less food than more affluent families who spend less on more food.”

Vacant lots, rooftops, and backyards are all potential locations for urban farms that can be maintained in an organic farmer’s spare time. The key to urban farming, according to Joel, is appropriate scale. Backyard, neighborhood, and community farms operating on a quarter-acre or less can adequately serve fresh produce to smaller markets without being wasteful or underutilizing the demand. In addition, cooperatives with stakeholders who invest minimal payments will keep money circulating within smaller communities.

Joel sees farming as a catalyst for transformation in East Chattanooga. He desires the partnership between Invest Hope and Grow Hope to result in sustainability as community members develop skills and oversee the farm. Joel sees multiple ways Grow Hope can benefit the neighborhood:

  • He hopes for a future of urban farms that encroach upon unused spaces.
  • He hopes for snap sales of fresh produce to pop up around town.
  • He hopes for shalom and wholeness and well-being in Chattanooga’s inner city.

Grow Hope is still growing but it’s already at market. A delay in the summer planting means the summer produce-picking is only just beginning.The planning for a second market location is underway and to be determined after the soon-to-be-grand opening of the first location.

Grow Hope Farm Stand will officially open for business Saturday, August 11 in recognition of the 2018 National Farmers Market Week. The stand will operate Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon where potluck meals, cooking demonstrations, and garden workshops will be offered in addition to market priced produce. Expect cartons of farm fresh eggs and freshly picked seasonal crops that include:

  • Okra
  • Green beans
  • Hot peppers and sweet peppers
  • Squash
  • Cucumbers

To support Grow Hope’s mission of urban agriculture and vocational empowerment, get involved. Visit to become a volunteer and find yourself farming in Chattanooga’s inner city. Subscribe to Hope for the Inner City’s newsletter to stay informed about the goings-on and Grow Hope market schedules. Better yet, convert your backyard into an urban farm and start growing. Food for thought.