Day 13 – Memphis, TN

Crossing Tennessee

From the campground, we set off for Nashville, stopping just once to eat lunch in a rest stop. In the Smokies, we had been very aware of the air quality. Though “smoky” in part because of natural conditions, visibility in the park and surrounding areas has been dramatically affected by human pollution. Like the “smog” in California, air pollution caused by power plants, exhaust fumes and industry has become a serious concern, reducing visibility by 40% in the winter and 80% in the summer. From the mountains this was painfully apparent, as what would have been spectacular views were partially lost to the haze. Please read more about air quality in the Smokies here.

Driving west now, we noticed that we could barely see the sky, soon passing a culprit energy plant spewing dark clouds close to the main road. Though not a focal issue of our blog, having seen this dramatic display of air pollution (seriously, there was no blue sky in eastern Tennessee this week) we felt it was important to mention here in cyber space. Needless to say, we are looking forward to parking our car at the end of this trip and getting back into the habit of bike commuting. (Check out this timely article about the merits of biking)

Hot and thirsty, we drove directly from the highway to Nashville’s seven-day-a-week farmer’s market, which is located near to the capitol buildings and surrounding mall area. Ready for some fresh produce after a few days of camp food, we were blown away by the amount of tomatoes, melons, peppers and summer squashes on display.

After stocking up on some “homegrown” veggies including some unusually bright red heirloom tomatoes and a very round Japanese eggplant, we switched into work mode and decided to track down a young couple we had overheard talking about composting when we entered the market.

We found Tera sorting through some boxes of rejected produce at the far end of the market and soon learned that she was working for a Food Reclamation project, responsible for providing area shelters with produce that isn’t sold at the market. She explained that she works for Trevecca Nazarene University and that she and her husband run the new garden/greenhouse project there, where they compost any produce that they are unable to donate or use themselves. They also help operate three local schoolyard gardens they have created in recent years.

In a typical display of Southern Hospitality, Tera indulged us with an interview, suggested we come along with them to see the garden and even invited us to their home for an evening meal and bible study session (they are also co-pastors in addition to co-workers and spouses). Planning on continuing west that evening, we declined the latter offer but did follow their old Ford pick up out of the city center and towards Trevecca, where we helped them throw piles of rotting produce into a rich compost heap.

Three years ago, this site was merely a dump for the university but now provides nutrients to gardens all around the area. As we worked we engaged in a lively conversation about food and farming and they reiterated the message we have been hearing everywhere since Washington D.C: people need to know where their food comes from and… gardening is fun!

In the green house, they showed us an aquaponics system designed by a professor and constructed by biology students. A school of around 300 tilapia in the bottom of three layers releases fish nutrients into a tank of water which is pumped to the second layer, where herbs enjoy the nutrients from the fish. These plants help to filter any toxins before the water is pumped further up to another layer of plants and then cycled back to the fish for another round. This system creates a balanced ecosystem (albeit miniature) and they showed us how the participating plants are growing approximately 6-8 times faster than they would without the fish there to feed them.

Utterly pleased with their friendliness and willingness to participate in our project, we said a long goodbye before we got back on the road. Feeling we couldn’t have had a less likely and more gratifying experience with Tennessee’s capital, we got back on Route 40 and headed for Natchez Trace State Park. Check out some other photos from Nashville in our Still Life section.

Alone in Camp #2, save for a blonde family of six or seven (with one on the way), the quiet, muggy campgrounds felt eerily like the setting of a horror movie. In my mind, the film would star a young traveler who is half killed by swarming mosquitoes and flies while her boyfriend is away in the shower, and then finished off by giant moths and one sneaky poisonous brown spider at the end. As you can imagine, now out of the mountains and down by some water, the bio-diversity here in Western, TN was really hopping. While my horror film fantasy was never exactly played out, we did retreat to our tent early to escape the company.

However, we did take time to cook up a farmer’s market meal on the camp stove first:

We drifted off to the sound of 1 million insects (Adam said sleepily, “The South makes Noise!”) and slept until our typical wake up time around sunrise. We arose, repacked the patient Subaru (this is like doing a puzzle and working out at the same time), and struck out for Memphis, our current location.

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