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Federal grant aims to connect farmers, promote sustainable agriculture in northwest Tennessee

Apples at the Martin, Tennessee farmers market.
Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network
Apples at the Martin, Tennessee farmers market.

Agriculture researchers at University of Tennessee at Martin are using nearly $300,000 in federal grant funding to help network with small-scale farmers in northwest Tennessee and promote sustainable agriculture practices.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture grant announced last week will have the university collaborate with researchers at Penn State in Pennsylvania, with both schools working with livestock and produce farmers in their regions.

UT Martin agricultural economics Professor Rachna Tewari, who is leading the project, said farmers and researchers in both Pennsylvania and Tennessee will share and exchange sustainable agriculture practices and also make visits to the respective states to see local agriculture practices up close. Tewari said some of those practices include the use of cover crops and the use of greenhouses in vegetable production.

With the grant-funded project starting this fall, the trainings and networking will build up to a local foods and sustainable agriculture conference in northwest Tennessee in 2025. Tewari said the university is also working with the nonprofit Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network to help with the farmer outreach.

“Producers will be able to actually listen to some invited speakers or to have some workshops that would focus on sustainable food systems in the region. So that's where the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network comes in,” Tewari said. “They have a lot of expertise in creating a local food network in the area, which will be kind of something that some of these small-scale producers will be able to benefit from, in terms of networking, as well as learning from invited speakers about practices that could be implemented on the farm.”

Working with the Global Teach Ag Network at Penn State, Tewari said UT Martin students will also travel abroad to learn about agricultural practices in other countries as a part of the project.

The Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network has been operating in the region since 2015, supporting farmers markets in northwest Tennessee cities and connecting local school districts to food sources. Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network executive director Samantha Goyret said strengthening farmers in the region will also have a positive “ripple effect” in communities.

“All the findings that we learn and the training modules that we develop and all the connections that are going to happen,” Goyret said. “It's a really exciting project.”