Grow, Cook + Share: Nashville Food Project Fuels Community With Help From CoolBot

The Nashville Food Project does a lot of amazing things. The simplest explanation is that they grow, cook and share. This non-profit organization’s cornerstone philosophy is that all people should have access to the food they want and need. The Nashville Food Project aids this mission with their gardens, where they grow organic food and share resources; in their kitchens, where they utilize recovered, donated and garden-grown produce to prepare homemade meals; and throughout their community, whom they nourish with those meals. 

The Nashville Food Project wants to solve its city’s hunger and food waste problems by providing much more than simple handouts. Not only do they provide food for their community, but they share knowledge and resources, empowering farmers to grow their own food to sustain their families and to sell for profit at markets. 

”The Nashville Food Project brings people together to grow, cook and share nourishing food, with the goals of cultivating community and alleviating hunger in our city.”

We had the pleasure of speaking with Tally May, who’s involved with The Nashville Food Project’s Growing Together program, which specifically “engages farmers who are interested in growing produce to sell, generating personal income and building community food security along the way.” This program provides opportunities to Nashville’s refugee population — most of whom hail from Burma and Bhutan — by granting them access to land, resources, training and technical assistance, and marketing support. The participating farmers in Growing Together are then able to provide fresh, locally grown produce to other communities throughout Nashville through The Nashville Food Project’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Growing Together helps families and communities experiencing food insecurity and also allows international farmers to grow traditional foods they may not otherwise have access to.  

The Nashville Food Project recently purchased two turnkey CoolBots. One cooler is at their Mill Ridge Farm site, where their community garden is located. The other is being used at their urban farm, where refugee farmers grow produce to sell with Growing Together.  

“As growers have increased knowledge and capacity to grow more food on the same amount of space, everyone’s become super efficient and organized,” tells Tally May. “Now we’re putting out a lot of food.”

The program’s need for onsite cold storage became apparent as the output of the small farm grew. Prior to purchasing a CoolBot, the farmers had been storing their harvested produce in a refrigerated truck that would transport the produce back and forth to headquarters, where the trucks would be kept plugged in and running all of the time. But, because the trucks weren’t always onsite, the farmers didn’t always have access to refrigeration. 

But now with the CoolBot located at the farm, farmers are able to come and harvest on their own time, including evenings and weekends. “We’ve got these really experienced farmers growing beautiful produce. And now that they’ve got access to onsite cold storage, they’re increasing the output and quality of the produce. The flexibility allows us to harvest all week,” says Tally May.

“The big thing now, in addition to our CSA, is that we’re working with different distributors in the community to give even more people access to fresh produce. We’ve got these community leaders organizing volunteers to deliver produce to elderly housebound people who don’t typically have access to food, let alone culturally appropriate food that they grew up with,” Tally May tells us. The new CoolBots also help to streamline this distribution process by granting cooler access to leaders and volunteers, who can now let themselves into the cooler with a key to access the produce, instead of having to coordinate with farm employees or managers. 

“We’re just so excited right now. The flexibility that the coolers provide is just so great. We’re very grateful for what we have,” says Tally May.

Growing Together’s cooler helps in a few different ways:

  • Farmers can now harvest all week, with flexible hours to accommodate their schedules.
  • Higher quality produce that stays fresher for longer. 
  • Farmers are more productive and efficient with space and field management. Produce such as kohlrabi, carrots, cabbages and radishes can continue to ripen and stay fresh while stored in the cooler, while new crops are planted in their place. 
  • Produce won’t have to stay in the ground and lose quality, now that onsite cold storage is an option.

How did The Nashville Food Project come to find out about CoolBot, anyway? Tally May has been a self employed small vegetable grower for about fifteen years and owns one herself. She actually converted an old walk-in refrigerator with a CoolBot on her own farm. The CEO of The Nashville Food Project and her husband also use a CoolBot for their personal vegetable operation. So everyone was quite familiar with CoolBot from the start. “We’re all pretty farm-y,” laughs Tally May. “And it felt so great to finally be able to do this.”

The Nashville Food Project outfitted the interior of their coolers with shelving to store all of their produce, which they generally pack in plastic grocery bags. Each farmer has a designated shelf for their product bags, and they also use stackable bins for storage. Because they’re storing a lot of greens, they try to keep their coolers around 38 degrees. 

“The special thing about Growing Together is that I work specifically with a lot of refugees, who have limited access to resources. There are language and transportation barriers. A big thing that we do is facilitate resources. A lot of our farmers are older, in their sixties and seventies. This farm provides them with a source of income, allowing them to contribute added income and food to their families. And having access to a cooler makes them feel so validated, it’s so sweet. I can see how much it means a lot to them to feel like their produce and what they do has been invested in.”  

According to Tally May, “Growing Together is not only about providing food to the community, but it also empowers people to make a worthy contribution.” And we’re honored that CoolBot can have such a positive impact on this program and its community. Hooray for empowered farmers, fresh produce, shared resources and efficiency! 

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