Organic agriculture is just one way to meet the needs of our ever-increasing population while preserving the environment and keeping the size of our carbon footprints low. I wanted to talk about Chattanooga, Tennessee, a city that has embraced environmental conservation and has gone above and beyond environmental policy requirements.
In 1969, Chattanooga was voted the dirtiest city in America because of industrial pollution combined with it’s position in a valley between mountains. You can still hear stories from retirees at Alexian Village about going to work wearing a white tee and coming back with a black one because the air was so dirty. But after the institution of the federal Clean Air Act passed in 1970, Chattanooga’s leaders took drastic efforts to clean up the city. Because of their efforts, Chattanooga was recognized as an “Environmental City” in 1990. Twenty-three years later, the city continues to work on environmental projects and has even been on the forefront of some movements in the nation.
As a Chattanooga native, I have been very lucky to witness some of the incredible changes made to improve the city environmentally, especially the incorporation of environmental consciousness into the local businesses. I’ve listed some of my favorite green spots for anyone looking to take a weekend field trip or learn about environmental advancements being made in the city.
- The Crash Pad is the fourth lodging institution in the U.S. and first hostel in the world to receive an LEED platinum certification (basically the highest eco-friendly honor available to any business). It was constructed with adventurous travelers in mind-especially rock climbers, bikers, and those just looking to visit the city. The Crash Pad is equipped with solar panels, a green roof, gray water filtration system, and beautiful woodwork counters and furniture throughout made from recycled wood scraps (some from the building that used to occupy this lot). The owners are also working on getting permission to build a restaurant and bar across the street!
- Right down the street is Green Spaces, a company that works with local builders to improve building efficiency and decrease waste from construction. They also provide a library, classes, and a meeting place for community members to discuss all things environmental.
- The Chattanooga Food Bank is also home to the Evelyn Navarre Davenport Teaching Garden, which was built to teach people in the community about growing vegetables and is home to a variety of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. The produce also goes into food boxes at the bank!
- Chattanooga opened a Volkswagen Plant in 2011, another LEED platinum certified business. I was lucky enough to visit the site of the 33-acre solar panel farm last summer that was being constructed to supply at least half of the plant’s electricity demands. The plant is also surrounded by wetlands that are home to a variety of plant and animal species including deer, rabbits, and looots of snakes (wear boots!!). It’s a really cool area, especially because there are some old bunkers if you can get back to the woodsy part, but I’m not sure how strict security is to people just exploring and you may need to find someone with the city to take you.
- Chattanooga was recently made a test city for the Nissan Leaf and has installed plug in stations in many major parking lots throughout the city (some are even solar powered!). Chattanooga’s also installed a series of rentable bikes located at ports throughout downtown, which can be rented and returned for day trips touring the city at a small price.
These are just a few of the cool things Chattanooga’s done to improve the environment and the city. The riverfront has been reconstructed to make downtown more aesthetic and pedestrian friendly, and is host to festivals such as Brewfest, Riverbend, and Riverfront Nights music series. There’s also a variety of organic and community farms throughout the city and restaurants serving local and organic food (Sluggo’s is an amazing vegetarian restaurant! Also, check out the Yellow Deli and 212 Market).
Chattanooga’s drastic turnaround over the past 40 years is proof that even some of the worst environmental situations can be remediated if there are enough people willing to fight for it.
So the next time you’re looking for a weekend escape, take the short hour and a half drive down to Chattanooga and see some cool green businesses, local art and music, and eat some delicious food!