Good food grown honestly: we're only as strong as our farms.

Good food grown honestly: we're only as strong as our farms.
Sequatchie Valley, Tennessee

Sept. 13, 2023

My best friend is working on a Toyota with a malfunctioning alarm system. Every time you put the key into the ignition, the car alarm blares and won’t stop. It's an awful sound and paralyzing: you can't drive the car with a blaring, honking alarm. But, to fix the car, you must start it, which triggers the alarm and makes working for more than five minutes unbearable and crazy-making.

How do you fix what doesn't want to be fixed?

This is an exasperating mechanical quandary, but a good symbol for American culture. 

Many things need repair our society; yet, when repair is offered, very loud, discordant alarm bells sound. Many times, we can't even talk about a proper diagnosis – choose your topic: race, sexuality, history, spending, guns – or even adequately name the problem without our alarms – outrage, anger, defensiveness, distrust – taking centerstage, muting whatever repair is being offered. We shut down and walk away.

In his recent piece in The Atlantic, David Brooks asks two essential questions:

Why have Americans become so sad?

Why have Americans become so mean? 

"We’re enmeshed in some sort of emotional, relational, and spiritual crisis, and it undergirds our political dysfunction and the general crisis of our democracy. What is going on?" Brooks writes.

Interested in sponsoring or supporting our work? Email

Food as a Verb thanks Fast Break Athletics, our city's oldest running store, for its generous support of local food and storytelling.

Since 1977, Fast Break Athletics has been at the heart of Chattanooga's running community. Visit the new store on Hamilton Ave.

I would add a third question:

How do we become less sad?

Less mean?

And less alarmed?

A year or so ago, I left an American newsroom after a decade there. I started Food as a Verb to shift attention to people and places being overlooked: our farmers and farms, chefs and restaurants, food and the meaning it all offers. 

This is not my attempt at “good-news” media. Food as a Verb is a strategic and intentional attention shift; into the media cycle, we are also adding our own stories of integration, clarity and sustenance. 

One way we become less sad, less mean and less alarmed?

By deepening our relationship with food.

By clarifying our relationship with the land.

While other media outlets focus on alarm, Food as a Verb shifts attention to another ground.

This is not naive or wishy-silly. It reflects the very true nature of our lives: before any politics or entertainment, we exist in relation to food and the land.

None of this is theoretical. When we engage the land and food in different ways, something neurophysical+spiritual+biological seems to shift within us. Elements not always present in fast-mass-chaotic society emerge: calm, ease, a sense of alignment, the very delicious experience of good food grown honestly.

Try for yourself.

This month, visit a farmers' market.

Shake hands. Ask questions. Buy produce. Most Wednesdays, I shop the Main St. Farmers Market. It is open-air abundance of gorgeous food grown by people whose name and stories I know, whose farms I can visit. No other producer in Chattanooga society – manufacturing, medical, political, business – greets the public each week in such an authentic, vulnerable way. But farmers?

We hug, laugh and talk shop: what grows, what won't, when to plant, how to cook, Braves baseball, grain, moonshine stills, a roadtrip to see Sandor Katz, the early frost, copperheads in hoop houses, which trucks are running, which aren't, trips overseas, friends who are sick, small world coincidences.

Then – the best part – I go home with bags of locally-grown, organic, distinctly fresh and delicious food as my money circulates through our local economy.

Every Wednesday, Food as a Verb publishes a list of regional markets for this very reason: so that we can connect and build relationships with local food and the folks growing it.

Food as a Verb believes every media outlet should regularly report on farmers, farms and the state of food in Chattanooga. After all, our community is only as strong as its farms and food.

The stories that go unreported can be just as true, relevant and meaningful. 

Maybe more so.


This Sunday, we are honored to publish the story of Ian "Sully" Sullivan, owner of the Oatmeal Experience.

Born Ian Sullivan, he was 31 when he started going by “Sully.” It was a literal decision that was also symbolic: he was being remade into a new man.

Ian "Sully" Sullivan, Oatmeal Experience, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Ian was pre-diabetic, depressed and desperate.

But today?

Sully is transformed.

A Black businessman and entrepreneur.

An ultrarunner.

An attentive, devoted father and husband. 

And a food truck owner. 

Two years ago, he opened The Oatmeal Experience, a food truck selling oatmeal in surprising, delicious ways. Since then, he’s served some 3,000 bowls to Chattanoogans.

"Food is the way to everybody's heart," Sully says.

David Cook and Ian "Sully" Sullivan

This Sunday, we'll ship his story to your inbox.

Wishing you a less sad, less alarming, less mean week.


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)