Eat your vegetables: Atlanta joins effort to grow food for those underserved
By David Pendered
Atlanta is joining the ranks of New York City and Sacramento, Ca. in promoting urban agriculture, a fast-growing trend that promotes the growing of plant food in and near the urban core of a metropolitan area.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced Sept. 2 that he has created and posted the position of “Urban Agriculture Director.” The position will be based in the mayor’s Office of Sustainability, now headed by Stephanie Stuckey Benfield.
The term “urban agriculture” has various definitions across various cities. The consensus for the desired outcome seems to be that urban agriculture promotes access to fruits and vegetables, mainly for folks who now have to travel long distances to access such foods.
In Atlanta, the notion is for the new position to promote new policies regarding farming in the city, and the conversion of brownfields into urban gardens.
In addition, the statement says:
- “The Director will also work with community organizations and various City departments to improve growers’ access to public and private land, facilitate the permitting process, obtain necessary zoning permits, support local initiatives, manage code compliance, and address other issues to advance urban agriculture in Atlanta.”
Bill Bolling, the founding director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, said:
- “The City is going to benefit from a central leverage point and advocate for addressing the many nutritional challenges that urban areas face. This position is an example of Mayor Reed’s commitment to helping families meet their nutritional needs while also improving the overall health of our community.”
The statement does not elaborate on how brownfields are to be converted into gardens, or if food will be grown in the brownfield gardens.
Brownfields are defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Division as: “[R]eal property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”
The new position Reed has created advances a policy his administration promoted in 2014. The Atlanta City Council approved June 2, 2014 an amendment to Atlanta’s zoning ordinance that allows urban gardens and market gardens to operate in residential zoning districts, according to a statement released by Reed’s office:
- “Prior to the ordinance, urban gardens and market gardens were only permitted for use in commercial and retail zoning districts.”
This is how one advocate for the zoning change, Atlanta Local Food Initiative, described the reason for the amendment:
- “Urban agriculture isn’t addressed in the current Atlanta zoning code, which means urban agriculture operations can’t get a city of Atlanta business license. It also means community gardeners and urban farmers have trouble with land purchase and lease agreements. This creates an uncertain environment for growers, because if there’s a complaint about a project, enforcement is unclear.”
This is how the urban agriculture movement has unfolded in two other cites:
- “Urban agriculture is booming in New York City, with more than 700 food-producing urban farms and gardens citywide.”
- The project was overseen by Design Trust for Public Space, in partnership with the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, to strengthen and expand urban agriculture in New York City.
- The city enacted legislation intended: “To reduce the regulatory burden on urban agriculture, and the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone Ordinance to provide tax incentives to promote urban agriculture.”