In a transformative journey from the pulpit to the forefront of community activism, Chris Battle found a new calling as a full-time farmer helping those facing food insecurity.

According to People, Battle has an urban farm where he cultivates fresh produce transported to local farmers markets. When not tending to his crops, he leads a new congregation in East Knoxville, Tennessee, through fellowship and Bible scriptures.

“We meet here whenever God says it’s okay — meaning whenever it’s not raining or too cold,” Battle told People. “We’ve got atheists here, gay, trans and straight people. I think we’ve even got a witch.”

Battle, 62, stepped down four years ago as the senior pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, one of Knoxville’s oldest Black Baptist institutions, to grow and deliver fresh produce to people with limited access to healthy food.

“I’m doing something that’s meeting a significant need in our community,” Battle said. “I think it’s literally saving people’s lives.”

Battle’s interest in food activism began in college, and he knew he wanted to become a preacher. For 30 years, he led congregations in several states before settling in Knoxville to help reshape the community.

“My life goal was to pastor, to be of service to others, and then retire,” he said.

At the time, the city had no grocery store, and Battle wanted nearby neighborhoods to have access to affordable fresh food.

“Learning that people here could not get access to food to nourish their bodies felt ridiculous to me,” Battle explained, adding, “It started messing with my head.”

After quitting his job in 2019, Battle helped launch a Sunday farmers market and delivered produce from several food banks to those living in public housing, per People. He then created four additional community gardens where city residents can grow food.

His flagship location, Battlefield Farm & Gardens, serves as a place for fresh produce and to hold Sunday services. Battle has found a new meaning to giving back to others and does not miss being a spiritual leader.

“I’ve never been happier,” he said. “I don’t miss pastoring. I tell people, ‘I pastor okra now—okra doesn’t give me as many problems as some people do.'”