University grad pays it forward with food justice

by Kelly Ledbetter |

(Union University)Cari Griffith

JACKSON, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) – When Cari Griffith bought a tomato plant at a farmer's market during her junior year at Union University, she did not realize she was taking the first step to answering her call to ministry. Now a produce manager at Grubb's Grocery, volunteer and community garden manager at ComeUnity Café, and founder of Jackson Harvest Share, Griffith is using her gardening skills to raise awareness about food justice and poverty in America.

"My time at Union helped me challenge systems and think about what justice means," Griffith told Union Life, her university's campus life blog. "It made me ask hard questions about food security and what poverty is in America."

A 2012 graduate in public relations, Griffith was instrumental in helping establish ComeUnity Café, a healthy food source for the people of Jackson regardless of their ability to pay. The café keeps a garden, directed by Griffith, where food grown by volunteers goes straight to people's plates.

"Healthy, sustainably produced food should be available to everyone, not just the rich," Griffith said.

Café patrons may choose to work for an hour in exchange for a meal or simply sign up to help set up, cook, serve, clean, or garden. The café strives to create a community around healthy food options in recognition of local food insecure people.

"Cari has done a great job to ensure that out garden is growing amazing produce as well as beautifying the city around it," the café's summer newsletter said.

Griffith credits her ministry involvement during her university days as revealing that Americans have food needs.

"At first, I only saw this [food justice issues] on a global scale. I thought I had to go to Africa to find those needs," she said. "But in my four years in college, mostly through working with ministries at Union, I saw that there is a great need here in Jackson."

LOCAL FOOD, LOCAL MINISTRY

This awareness of local hunger contributed to Griffith's founding Jackson Harvest Share, a network of gardeners, farmers, relief organizations, and Jackson residents who are working together to fight hunger, according to its Facebook page. It connects gardeners with people or organizations that can use their excess produce.

Griffith recently addressed A.M. Creative, a meet-up for creative designers. She challenged them to experience the pride and satisfaction of growing food.

"Just try and grow something you love to eat, and go from there," Griffith told the audience of non-gardeners. "Because once you start with one thing, and you have tasted fruit from that thing that you have grown, you can't stop."

A photographer as well as a gardener, Griffith sees the artistic beauty in the plants she grows. "Being a part of [the Madison County Master Gardeners group] community has been one of the most encouraging parts of my time in Jackson, both as a human and as a gardener," Griffith told her listeners.

"Something like landscaping can be an art; using the patterns and colors of foliage as an art has inspired my photography and how I look at the things around me."

Griffith tries to blend social justice, community ministry, and her love of plants throughout her work, life, and ministry.

Thinking of her first steps in gardening, Griffith said, "That one tomato plant turned into, hopefully, a lifetime of farming."