Farm to Crag: what's it really mean to be an outdoor city?

Let's expand what it means to be an outdoor city.

Farm to Crag: what's it really mean to be an outdoor city?

Sept. 20, 2023

Let's expand what it means to be an outdoor city.

Chattanooga – twice named Outside's Best City – is known coast to coast for our outdoor identity. Name any outdoor sport – minus skiing – and we offer it in gorgeous abundance.

Yet our definition of outdoor people, or those drawn to outdoor Chattanooga, fits in a narrow or singular range of identity: Patagonia, climbing bolts, Litespeed, whitewater, single-track trails – all beautiful and good, but narrow. Yes, I'm part of this demographic, and yes, it remains a singular one.

So, let's broaden our outdoor identity.

Outdoor also means Carhartt, tractors and deer stands.

Outdoor also means compost, hoop houses and manure.

Outdoor also means hogs and cattle, butchers and bakers.

Yes, Outdoor Chattanooga is synonymous with mountains, trails, the Gorge, the Ocoee.

But why not also the farmers in the Ocoee? And the Gorge? And their rows of vegetables? Cattle?

And chickens?

Laying hens, Sequatchie Valley, Tennessee

It's time to broaden and expand our definition of what it means to be an outdoor city. As we include outdoor folks – mainly farmers and hunters – who we've traditionally excluded, then we'll find good things emerge:

  • An even stronger economic, philosophical and practical foundation. No longer will outdoorism be solely linked to tourism or certain sports. We can expand our outdoor experience into agricultural tourism and farmers' markets, which will consequentially boost overall health, civic knowledge and local economies. Politically, two subconsciously separate demographics will merge together, making both even stronger.

Imagine if we prioritized and integrated local food into all our outdoor events and races, from Ironman to trail races to marathons.

  • Our tourist industry will grow even larger as it benefits from an entirely untapped market. Imagine a southeast Tennessee Farm Trail alongside regional century rides.
  • Outdoor athletes learn to tap into a deeper sense of what it means to be outdoors. Already attuned to the land in powerful ways, outdoor athletes are exquisitely sensitive to the water, trail, rock face they engage with.

We can double that sensitivity, integrating agricultural knowledge and relationships into the knowledge we have of rivers, rocks and trails. Let's be very clear: some of the most environmentally conscious and sensitive folks are outdoor athletes, and I'd wager that our environmental footprint has decreased simply through the cultivation of our outdoor identity. So, to all who contributed: an endless thanks. Yet, this point remains: my appreciation for the land grows as I become more aware of those who are engaging it in entirely different ways.

It's like finding out you had a whole new side of family living just down the road.

"We're a part of this ecosystem," said Kelsey Keener. "You enjoy climbing in this ecosystem. Well, you're actually a part of this ecosystem and part of that is supporting local farmers where you climb."

Interested in sponsoring or supporting our work? Email

Beginning on Oct. 13, Keener and Sequatchie Cove Farm host a second annual "Farm to Crag" event, open to local and out-of-town climbers. The two-day experience merges two faces of outdoorism: farmers and climbers. Participants camp out on the farm and climb at nearby Foster Falls. Yet they also attend regenerative farming workshops and hands-on demonstrations.

"It's a model that could spread through all outdoor recreation communities," Keener added.

Farm to Crag is a Patagonia-supported project that stretches across the nation, intentionally connecting climbers with farmers. The event is for both local and out-of-town climbers. Last year, according to its blog, they had a rousingly good time.

"Climbers dug up sweet potatoes and ground beautiful, freshly harvested, dark red corn into grits, both of which we ate for breakfast the next morning. This direct link between the hard work of keeping soil healthy, so that it grows nutrient dense food and supports our climbing strength is a joyful way to learn about how local, regenerative, organic agriculture can be a solution to climate change," Farm to Crag wrote.

The weekend went both ways; as Keener taught the climbers, they, in turn, taught him, leading him on his first-ever climb.

"This event blew my mind and made me realize there is so much we can do to build relationships and a truer sense of community than what we currently have here at the farm," he wrote. "How can we make this more regular?  How can we engage more of the Chattanooga climbing/farming community in these discussions?"

Kelsey Keener, garlic, Sequatchie Cove Farm, Sequatchie Valley, Tennessee

This Sunday, the Keeners are featured in Food as a Verb. Kelsey gives us a tour of his flocks of 2,000 laying hens while articulating a vision for the way communities and farmers can support one another.

Ever seen a flock of 2,000 hens?

You will Sunday.

As always, a list of regional farmers' markets follows. Take good care, everyone.

All photography by Sarah Unger. Visit

Story ideas? Interested in sponsorship opportunities + supporting our work? Feedback or questions? Email David Cook at This story is 100% human generated; no AI chatbot was used in the creation of this content.

Food as a Verb thanks our sustaining partners for their generous support.

Regional Farmers' Markets

Main St. Farmers' Market

Corner of W. 20th and Chestnut St., near Finley Stadium

Wednesday, 4 - 6pm

Brainerd Farmers' Market

Grace Episcopal Church, 20 Belvoir Ave, Chattanooga, TN 

Saturday, 10am - noon

Chattanooga Market

1820 Carter Street, Sunday, 11am - 4pm

Ooltewah Farmers' Market

The Ooltewah Nursery, Thursday, 3 - 6pm 

Signal Mountain Farmers' Market

Pre-order online for Thursday pick-up between 4 - 6pm at Bachman Community Center

St. Albans Farmers' Market

7514 Hixson Pike, Saturday, 9.30am - 12.30pm with a free pancake breakfast every third Saturday  

Walker County Farmers' Market

Wednesday, 2 - 5 pm, Rock Spring Ag. Center 

Saturday, 9 am - 1 pm, downtown Lafayette, Georgia

To include your farmers market, email

Dig in. (It's free)