A beautiful $7.2 million story: Nashville, bipartisan funding and you.

It happened. It really happened.

A beautiful $7.2 million story: Nashville, bipartisan funding and you.

"We are all in this together."

In early March, Jeannine Carpenter, director of advocacy for the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, estimated there was a 20% chance that the missing $7.2 million would get restored. Maybe 25%.

Could you blame her? The political landscape, coast to coast, doesn't always suggest happy legislative endings.

But she kept trying. Talking day and night to Republicans and Democrats across the state, Carpenter gently, consistently, urgently reminded them of the situation: the state lost $7.2 million in funding for small farmers and families.

Those small farmers and families will suffer because of this.

Can you help?

And frequently, our state legislators would scratch heads in disbelief, asking Carpenter: say what? Tell me again what happened ...

In 2022, the Tennessee Dept. of Agriculture (TDA) applied for a USDA grant called the Local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreement program (LFPA) that directed American Rescue Plan funding to food banks in each participating state.

Those food banks used funding to contract retail pricing with area small farmers, purchasing from them produce, meat, eggs and fruit that was then distributed to food bank clients and families.

Tennessee received $8.2 million in LFPA funding and, in 2023, partnered with our states five food banks, 115 farms and 300 partner organizations, said Kim Doddridge, TDA's Public Information Officer.

Locally, the Chattanooga Area Food Bank (CAFB) received $800,000 from the grant.

"We were able to work with seven farms and distribute food through 38 hunger relief partner organizations," said Carpenter. "Eggs, beef, mountains of produce."

Across the US, 49 states and 28 tribes participated in the LFPA grant.

Then, USDA offered a second grant: LFPA Plus and, for Tennessee, the promise of another $7.2 million.

As Food as a Verb, Civil Eats and The Tennessean have documented, TDA missed multiple email notifications and deadlines; the grant slipped by and those farmers, food banks and families lost an additional $7.2 million.

It is a bureaucratically inconceivable: a state agency missing emails? Then, after realizing its mistake, choosing not to proactively solve the very problem it created?

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After exhausting many options, Carpenter turned to Nashville, meeting over and over with legislators: can you help? As March turned to April, that initial 20% of hope doubled, then tripled, as she witnessed the unfolding of a bipartisan masterpiece of legislative problem-solving.

In March, Chattanooga's Rep. Yusef Hakeem introduced a House appropriations request for $500,000.

Soon after, Senator Bo Watson – also from Chattanooga – demonstrated poised and skilled leadership, building support while confronting TDA officials with some hard questions. In the background, other legislators across the state – including Chattanooga's Rep. Patsy Hazlewood – began discussing ways to restore not only $500,000, but the entire $7.2 million.

And you – Food as a Verb community – began to call, email and contact your representatives.

Momentum grew.

"I'm feeling hopeful," Carpenter said in late March. "There's a good chance. More than 50%."

Thursday, her hope turned to reality, as state lawmakers passed a budget that included $7.2 million in earmarked funding that would restore the lost LFPA Plus grant.

“This move ensures those relying on the program receive the funds needed to serve Tennesseans," said Molly Gormley, press secretary for Tennessee's Senate Republican Caucus.

The $7.2 million is not added to the overall budget, but will come from TDA's own funding. (If the legislature can do this, why did TDA not offer this solution months ago?)

"The earmarked funds come from the Department of Agriculture’s budget to fill the gap in funding for the LFPA program," Gormley said.

 Across the state, farmers and food bank officials rejoiced.

"Awesome!" said Jane Mauldin of Wheeler's Orchards in Dunlap. "I want to extend my appreciation to our state legislature for stepping up to correct the errors made by the Dept. of Ag, to help not just the farmers of this state, but also the most vulnerable among us, the hungry, who are overwhelmingly children, the elderly and the disabled. In fact, regardless of age or diagnosis, hunger is a disability. This one has a cure."

Jane Mauldin, Wheeler's Orchard, Main St. Farmers' Market, Chatt., Tenn.

"Wow, that's amazing!" said Kelsey Keener of Sequatchie Cove Farm in Marion County.

Both Mauldin and Keener received LFPA funding that allowed them to sell orchard apples and Sequatchie Cove eggs and meat to area food banks and pantries. Keener, who called the LFPA "a prayer answered," had planned on additional LFPA Plus funds to scale up egg production.

As TDA missed the grant, his plan was dashed.

Thursday, he heard the news.

"I better go get some more chickens," he said.

Kelsey Keener, Sequatchie Cove Farm, Marion Co., Tenn.

"Wow. Just wow," said one reader, hearing the news. "There's got to be an appropriate informal event to thank Hakeem, Watson, et al."

Agreed. Please: thank your legislators for their work. It was noble, responsive and immeasurably life-changing. This was politics at its best.

“I feel fortunate and blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of this process along with my colleagues," said Hakeem, naming specifically representatives Powell, Dixie, McKenzie, Helton-Haynes, Chism, Moon, Behn, Freeman, Gillespie, Sparks, Parkinson and Keisling.

"I would like to particularly thank the food banks of Tennessee, the farmers, the administration and the legislators who aided in this effort to make things right," he said. "We are all in this together. As a result, many Tennesseans in times of need will be fed by the food banks."

A rousing thank-you to our own Food as a Verb community, readers and sponsors – proudly named at the end of every post – whose financial commitment makes our reporting possible.

And, thank Carpenter. Without her, this would not have happened.

"When I think about the path for these grant funds to be recouped, I realize that it really depended on people," she said on Thursday. "All of our Tennessee legislators ultimately supported recouping these funds, and for that I am extremely grateful. What all issues need are champions, the people who will raise awareness and talk about the issue even when no one else is. I rarely call out legislators by name, but in this circumstance, we owe a great deal of gratitude to Representative Hakeem, to Representative Hazelwood and to Senator Watson."

"Representative Hakeem stepped up and brought this issue to light – without hesitation, rallying legislators from both sides of the aisle to support Tennessee small farmers, producers, and food banks," she continued. "We needed the bold support of both the House and Senate finance committees to make this a priority in a year where Tennessee is operating with a leaner budget then we have become accustomed to. Fortunately, Senator Watson and Representative Hazelwood were strong leaders on that front."


Think of all the farmers whose strained budgets can exhale. Who will be paid fair-market cost for their produce, meat and eggs. Who can expand, pay off debt, hire help, scale up or even set a burden down.

Think of all the families and food bank clients, who will taste honey, apples, fresh eggs, meat, vegetables consistently throughout the upcoming months.

Not only taste, but enjoy and savor.

Apples, Main St. Farmers Market, Chattanooga, Tenn.

Asked Thursday for a comment, TDA has yet to respond.

"This really isn't about the money," Carpenter concluded. "This is about the small farmers and producers who have a market for their healthy, nutritious and delicious products. And this is about our neighbors who are facing food insecurity but will still have the opportunity to enjoy the highest quality Tennessee products. The LFPA program benefits, everyone – the Tennessee economy, Tennessee farmers and producers, hungry Tennesseans and food banks."

Chattanooga Area Food Bank, Chattanooga, Tenn.

All photography by Sarah Unger (sarah@foodasaverb.com)

All design by Alex DeHart

All words by David Cook (david@foodasaverb.com)

Story ideas, questions, feedback? Interested in sponsorship or advertising opportunities? Email us: david@foodasaverb.com and sarah@foodasaverb.com.

This story is 100% human generated; no AI chatbot was used in the creation of this content.

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