60-acre farm to be preserved in Hixson
One of the largest remaining family farms in Hamilton County, within the city limits of Chattanooga, will be protected from development and remain a landmark.
The children of Inez Hartman and Samuel Perry McConnell entered a lease agreement with the non-profit St. Andrews Center of Highland Park to provide stewardship and cultural/agricultural programming.
The Hartnell Farm was named by Sandra McConnell Burnett of Paducah, Ky., in memory of her parents, Inez Hartman McConnell and Sam McConnell. Mrs. McConnell’s family (the Hartmans) owned the farm for a nearly a century. The 60 acres was a former dairy and sits adjacent to lands previously protected by the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy and now managed by the state of Tennessee.
The McConnells were both educators in the Hamilton County Schools for over 20 years. Sam served as superintendent of Hamilton County Schools from 1955 to 1974. After retirement, he was director of Orange Grove Center. Mrs. McConnell taught Spanish and was active in the United Methodist Church, so the partnership with the St. Andrews Center, a cultural center operating in a century-old United Methodist church that serves Hispanic children and their families, is very intentional, it was stated.
The conservation efforts for Hartnell Farm are significant since it is located in one of the fastest growing suburbs of Hamilton County, officials said. The partnership with the St. Andrews Center was modeled after Crabtree Farms of Chattanooga that operates as a sustainable agricultural education center in conjunction with the city of Chattanooga.
Land will grow food for hungry families
The St. Andrews Center will lease the Hartnell Farm property for $1 per year and use portions of the property to grow food to feed the hungry families that live within walking distance of their urban location in downtown Chattanooga.
Cultural programming including a writers conference, educational workshops for faith-based groups, growers and artists, and day camps for young children are all planned opportunities for the farm. An advisory group and land-use plan will soon be developed.
The Spanish connection
The McConnell children chose the St. Andrews Center to steward the land and provide cultural programming because their mother was a Spanish language teacher, and St. Andrews Center is the largest social service, educational and cultural center serving Chattanooga’s growing Hispanic children and their families.
Highland Park, where the St. Andrews Center is located, includes many low-income and new immigrant residents who have little or inconsistent access to healthy, fresh market stands or neighborhood grocery stores with produce aisles. Public transportation is very limited in the area.
A recent survey conducted by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga named Highland Park and nearby East Lake as “food deserts” for this reason.
“The farm will have a group of advisors from the local community and will become a place to inspire, educate and feed the hungry,” said Rev. Michael Feely, executive director of the St. Andrews Center. “We will respect the views enjoyed by area residents and guests to the farm, while using portions to grow fresh vegetables and teach sustainable agricultural practices. The St. Andrews Center already has a great partnership with Crabtree Farms of Chattanooga through our campus community garden in Highland Park, and we will look to those experts as well as other regional advisors to explore opportunities.
“Most importantly, we will honor the family’s wishes that the farm be a distinct historic place where artists and educators and growers gather for fellowship and collaboration. It is an exciting opportunity for our community that we immediately knew we were called to act upon in faith, since family farms are rapidly disappearing due to commercial and residential development. The community may not have another opportunity such as this to secure the legacy of a family farm of this size and quality within the city limits of Chattanooga.
“The connection between an urban cultural center and a large rural farm setting is significant,” said Rev. Feely, who has worked for many years in both urban and rural ministry in Tennessee. “The farm provides great educational opportunities for the children we serve at St. Andrews, most who come from a farming heritage in Guatemala and Mexico, but now live in urban neighborhoods.
“We want children to be able to understand the value of fresh vegetables and where food comes from, but also admire the beauty of the woodlands that surround the farm,” he said. “I’ve often read that children can recognize and name more corporate logos than the names of native birds, trees and wildflowers. But that may be true today for adults as well. We all need to be reminded of the critical interdependence our urban centers have on our more rural regions and vice-versa. Both have a cultural contribution to make that keeps our city healthy, prosperous and prepared for the future.”
McConnell family members traveled back to Chattanooga for a rare reunion and dedication ceremony. The poet Wendell Berry received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers the same day of their biennial gathering in Chattanooga and shared remarks. He was introduced by Vanessa Mercer, Executive Director of Crabtree Farms of Chattanooga. Chattanooga poet Laurie Perry Vaughen read a dedication poem commissioned by the St. Andrews Center. Rev. Al Bowles, Chattanooga District Superintendent of the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church held the opening prayer and two children of the McConnells, Sandra Burnett and Maxwell McConnell of Virginia (namesake of his grandfather Max Hartman who operated the dairy farm) spoke. •
Editor’s Note: Reprinted with permission from Chattanoogan.com. Photos by Wesley Schultz. For information, go to www.chattanoogan.com.