The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Its importance punctuated by the pandemic, Knox Food Policy Council celebrates 40 years

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Food policy councilKnoxville city public information specialist Paige Travis; senior Knoxville-Knox County planner Jessie Hillman; Nourish Knoxville Executive Director Charlotte Tolley; and Food Policy Council advisor Vivian Williams (from left) share a laugh during a celebration of the FPC’s 40th anniversary.  Ben Pounds/Hellbender Press

Beardsley Farm and others provided vital food essentials during the pandemic and are better prepared for the future

KNOXVILLE — Disparate groups banded together as one during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure all Knox County citizens had reliable sources of food in the midst of disaster. 

They told their stories at the Knoxville-Knox County Food Policy Council 40th Anniversary Celebration on Sept. 21 at the Community Action Committee (CAC) Beardsley Community Farm.

University of Tennessee students formed the Food Policy Advisory Council in 1982.

The oldest municipal food policy council in the United States

The anniversary program included remarks and proclamations from Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, and state officials. Individual achievements on food-related issues were also honored. 

“Everybody eats every day. We need food to live, and it’s one thing to bring people a meal, to bring them food, and we need those measures as well,” Kincannon said. The council, however, is more focused on large-scale planning and solutions.

Sometimes you need to think bigger and think of those long-term solutions and how to fix the underlying problems. And that’s why I’m so proud of the work of this council, she said.

The reputation of the council is recognized nationally for its history and abilities, Jacobs said via a representative. The council serves an important role in the fabric of Knox County.”


Kimberly Pettigrew chaired the Food Policy Council during the pandemic’s early stages. The city asked her to chair the Knoxville Emergency Management Food Activist Committee as well, bringing in Centro HispanoBridge Refugee Services and Knoxville Community Development Corporation (KCDC).  

“We really wanted to ensure we were meeting people where they already were and not requiring people to have to really look for food,” she said in an interview. She said the need for mobile meals “skyrocketed,” but the council met those needs. 

Beardsley Community Farm is a Food Policy Council member. Adam Caraco, the community farm’s co-director, said his group also works with KCDC, Bridge Refugee Partnership and Centro Hispano. 

Prior to the pandemic, the farm gave away most of its produce. During the pandemic the farm expanded the number of people it served, requiring even more food. So the group bought food from other farmers and distributed it to “where there are hungry people.” 

“People got scared about what systems were going to fail and not fail,” he said, adding that some people started new gardens during the pandemic and came by Beardsley to get seedlings, seeds and plants. “There is this new push for people to try to grow their own food.” 

Food Policy Advisory Council 

The UT group traces its origins to a 1977 report by Robert L. Wilson’s “Synthesis” class at the UT Graduate School of Planning, which called for a council to address “urban food equity, supply and cost.” 

Pettigrew said the policy council deals with issues including food deserts, where not enough food is available, and food swamps, where less healthy food is easier to get than healthier food. 

“How does that place that you live work and play really affect your ability to access food and the food that you need?” she said, describing the question the council addresses. She said it’s not just about addressing hunger but also nutrition and equity. She said the group looked at whether different racial groups had the same access to food. 

“We’re really not trying to change individual choices, but the systems that impact those choices in the first place,” she said. 

She said there are now more than 200 food policy councils in the country. 

Other members and supporters of the council include the County Community Action Committee (CAC); Second Harvest of East Tennessee; United Way of Greater Knoxville; Boys and Girls Club; Knox County Schools; Salvation Army; Real Good Kitchen; Nourish Knoxville; Catholic Charities of East Tennessee; and Wesley House.

CAC Beardsley Community Farm 

Beardsley works with other groups that provide produce to clients. 

Caraco said the farm gives produce bags to Knoxville Community Development Corporation (KCDC) housing residents monthly. Each bag has about 15 pounds of produce. 

He said about 150 international refugees receive fresh eggs and bags of produce from his organization.  

“Often times if you come from a place like the Congo or Burundi, you don’t want to eat canned food,” he said, adding that the group grows vegetables familiar to these African refugees. He also said that at the time the group started, there were no grocery stores in downtown Knoxville. Other produce went to the Mobile Meals kitchen and after-school programs.  

Caraco said the farm focuses on sustainable ways to grow food, including using solar energy and rainwater and putting straw around crops. 

“We recognize we are not separate, but intertwined with nature and we commit to regenerative practices to mitigate the impact of climate change,” according to the Beardsley website. 

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