Entrepreneur Spotlight: Joel Tippens
"LAUNCH forced me to ask myself questions I had never really considered"
Joel Tippens, a longtime urban farmer, has worked on numerous urban farming projects between Chattanooga, TN, and Daytona Beach, Florida. These projects range from small school-yard projects to micro-farm development and community farm projects. Why urban farming, you might ask? Joel believes that urban agriculture bisects the various factors that result in poverty, “they are just so dynamically interfaced,” Joel says. He believes that urban farming is instrumental in developing self-reliance. After working with various organizations supporting numerous projects, Joel had yet to take the step to officially create his vision which consisted of linking urban agriculture and education to serve underserved resource-constrained communities.
In 2017, Joel had the opportunity to participate in two LAUNCH CHA cohorts. During the classes, Joel began to address the complexities of doing urban food justice work in Chattanooga - Joel mentions that “I was forced to ask myself questions I had never really considered.” In this incubation process, Joel connected with like-minded visionaries in the cohort; their reflections and ideas significantly contributed to the structure of his early-stage vision. This experience emphasized that partnerships provide tremendous value in achieving impact and clarity. Still desiring more guidance, Joel enrolled in a causeway class and soon following incorporated City Farms Grower Coalition in February of 2019.
Joel was encouraged to “really drill down the educational component of the program so that, in a strategic sense, City Farms can be an organization that trains the trainer.” This advice resulted in Joel incorporating City Farms Grower Coalition as an educational entity. The intentionality of creating this organizational model rooted in hands-on personal investment became one of the central pillars of City Farms.
The second pillar undergirding City Farms Grower Coalition is partnership. Under Joel's leadership, City Farms has established sustainable partnerships with various organizations, including UTCs Environmental Studies department, The Howard School, and numerous non-profit organizations across Chattanooga, including Hope for the Inner City and The Bethlehem Center. Upon establishing these partnerships, Joel uses his knowledge of sustainable urban farming alongside his teaching abilities to cultivate the urban farm and conduct hands-on workshops.
Farming, in general, might invoke images of expansive rural pastures with a tractor plowing an endless amount of land. To clarify, that is traditional farming. Urban farming is much different - it is considered non-traditional since it concentrates on using whatever space is available in urban settings to grow food, no matter how unconventional or bizarre it is. Envision a vacant parking lot, a small balcony, or even a spare tire! These often overlooked spaces for an urban farmer are exceptional pieces of real estate to begin the urban farm journey. Again, the concept City Farms Grower Coalition strives to infuse into the communities it works within is this idea of sovereignty; to help communities "move beyond charity to what I call self-reliance," Joel says. The ability of small-scale urban farming to create access to healthy foods where they otherwise might not exist is central to this notion. City Farms intentionally targets its efforts in low-access communities - with some neighborhoods characterized as a food desert or an area with limited access to affordable healthy food. Joel believes that resiliency and authority over food production are the roots of establishing a sense of communal ownership and unity.
To broadcast the far-reaching implications of this mission, City Farms Grower Coalition is excited to announce the release of a series of seasonal webinars intended to educate the community on urban farming, its history, and the role it plays in bringing communities together. The first episode is titled Race, Class, and Collard Greens. Joel wants to explore and offer insight into the topics surrounding “the story of urban agriculture and how we got to where we are.” Also, beginning late April, the Alton Park Community Market will begin. Grow Hope Urban Farm, the Howard Roots Youth Farm, and Neema Community Garden (located on East Main St), all committed partners to the urban farm coalition, are participating vendors in this weekly market. Stay up-to-date on the work Joel is doing through City Farms Grower Coalition at the links below!