#LocalFoodHero – Stella Horton

Some problems seem so enormous, like ending hunger and food insecurity, an individual hesitates to get involved because… well, because what can one person do?

And then someone like Stella Horton comes along, and shows all of us that one person can indeed make a big difference in a problem like hunger. Ms. Horton started growing food about three years ago, and she’s been working hard at it ever since in the small West Tennessee town of Ripley.

When Miles Chapel in Ripley was torn down, that ground didn’t become just a weed patch or a parking lot. With a “Be More” grant from the University of Tennessee-Martin Extension office for seeds, tools, fertilizer and so on, Horton headed a group of volunteers to literally grow a solution to hunger for some Ripley residents. “The grant was trying to help people eat healthy food,” she said.

She believes the garden has flourished dramatically for a simple reason: “The ground is blessed because it was a church for so many years. ‘Blessed hands on blessed land’.” Its resulting bounty is given away to those who need it most. “People who can’t afford fresh vegetables, senior citizens, people on food stamps, trying to stretch everything to the end of the month.” Many of them come to the First United Methodist Church in Ripley the last Tuesday of every month and line up outside the church doors, holding their assigned numbers and quietly waiting for the cheerful, busy volunteers inside to portion out food to see them through the rest of the month. “Two truckloads of food from Memphis come up with meat, cereal and so on.” Volunteers walk through the various groupings of food items, taking a designated portion of each, filling their Bags of Hope with the trucked-in items and the Ripley Garden fresh foods for the waiting recipients. “The church and its Bags of Hope program promote healthier eating,” Horton said. “And if we’ve grown a vegetable that people may not know about, like eggplant, I’ll put a recipe in the bag with it so people can do something besides fry it.”

This year the Ripley Garden under Horton’s expert guidance has lush, abundant plants as well as flowers for a burst of color. “About 150 tomato plants, which have done well; peppers, onions, which are finishing out, and peas, green beans, cucumbers, squash. We’ll be planting greens later.” Horton got a kick out of an observer commenting the sunflowers are so big, “They look like they’re on steroids!”

The Ripley Garden also donates produce to the Ripley Housing Authority, the Carl Perkins Center, seniors in the neighborhood and churches in the area who know of people struggling to feed themselves and their families.

During the rest of the week, you can find Stella selling her additional produce at the Mainstreet Dyersburg Farmers Market.

One person can do a lot to help other people. That’s why Stella Horton is a #Local Food Hero.

* By Terri Jenkins-Brady, Team Blogger