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Cultivating Community Through Farming And Food

Cul2vate Makes Strides In Changing Community One Pound Of Food At A Time

To create change in a community, one needs a domino that puts the domino effect into motion. In middle Tennessee, that domino is Cul2vate. 

For the past seven years, Cul2vate team members have selflessly worked hard to ensure they are giving back to their community in numerous ways. In fact, the number two in the name signifies more than a numeral, it represents the two-pronged mission of Cul2vate: growing food for under-resourced communities around the area and helping people within the community grow.

On a typical day, this two-pronged mission looks like donating one pound of food for every pound of food sold, as well as providing work opportunities for those who have been incarcerated and need guidance with getting back on their feet.

Thirteen years ago, Cul2vate Executive Director Joey Lankford was living in Africa and was trained by a Zimbabwean farmer. They then built a training and development platform located in Cape Town. These platforms aided in helping people find jobs locally. After returning to Tennessee, Joey wondered what this would look like if this were done domestically.

“I just love the concept of loving your neighbor and seeking the interest of others who are around you,” Joey says. “When I started out doing this stuff, I really went into it thinking ‘What can I do for those around me who may be in need of whatever circumstance they find themselves in.'” Joey and some friends then got together, sat in the dirt, he says, and discussed potential concept ideas.

Then, Cul2vate was born. 

Between the beautiful 8 acres that Cul2vate sits on and the temperature-controlled greenhouses, the nonprofit is able to grow food year-round. Once the food is grown, it is distributed in several ways so it can reach as many food deserts across middle Tennessee as possible. Their food goes out to farmer's markets and distributors who then present the food to local chefs to use. 

They also deliver food to those in need, whether that be high schools, churches or even local companies. Along with that, people also can purchase the food directly from the Cul2vate retail shop located on their property. If people wish to donate, they are able to make donations directly on the Cul2vate website.

The community is one of the most incredible things about Cul2vate. None of this food could be harvested without the people working on the farm, and many of those people go hand-in-hand with the second prong of their mission. “Many hands make light work,” Joey says. “And it’s always a blessing to see people in the community helping.”

Those who are coming out of incarnation for non-violent felony offenses are offered the opportunity to take part in a program where they are provided guidance and training that will help them with job placement down the road. This program has a lot of success and takes place in three phases.

“Many times we find that people just didn't have the right counsel when they were growing up, so for the last seven years we’ve had the pure joy of welcoming people into a learning environment,” Joey says. “We see success anytime we can move someone into a living wage job in the area and we can continue to support them with community.”

For the program, the recruitment and planning begin at the start of the calendar year. They then interview and recruit candidates for the program until May 1, then the first phase begins.

The first phase goes until the middle of October and is primarily where most of the farming takes place. Then, the second phase starts, and due to the farming slowing down, those involved with the program start to take classes to gain more skills. These classes typically involve worker readiness skills, such as hospitality, to better prepare them for future job placement. Cul2vate is currently in the process of building a commercial kitchen for this second phase. Once built, the kitchen can be used to teach food processing classes. For those who don’t find a job during the first or second phase, they go on to phase three where they can become even more involved within the organization. 

“We have four farms now, and a lot of community gardens in and around Nashville, but we’re looking for leaders to grow within the organization that we can job place over certain aspects of our continued growth,” Joey says.

By 2027, Cul2vate hopes to have a million pounds of food and have 50 graduates per year for their program.

“I would just encourage those who come across this story that you will be the most blessed anytime you engage with those around you when it’s not in a self-seeking way,” Joey says. “It gives you the opportunity to give back and you always walk away feeling more blessed.”

  • Joey Lankford