Helping Successfully Transplant Five Points Farm into MARTA’s Vision
by Jim Hackler co-manager
Sitting on top of downtown’s Five Points MARTA station is one of the most diverse community gardens in the state. Most people, including the thousands of daily commuters, don’t even know it’s there. The Five Points Farm was established in 2016 thanks to a partnership between Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (CAP/ADID) and MARTA. In spring 2018, we partnered with the City of Atlanta’s Office of Resilience through its AgLanta program. It’s a truly unique group of downtown’s biggest players that has helped us grow the garden into what it is today.
We’re an all volunteer group with 23 members who cultivate everything from garden favorites like tomatoes and peppers to more exotic plants like purple tomatillos and za’atar. We’re downtown residents and workers growing healthy and delicious fresh produce in an area not served by a major grocery store (the closest is 1.5 miles).
The main part of the garden is grown in galvanized steel tanks, but we’ve expanded thanks to support from Food Well Alliance’s Local Food Grant that’s helped finance a greenhouse, tool shed and compost station. More recently, ChangeX funded our partnership with Community Foodscapes to become an official Pollinator Partner with the planting of fruit trees and other pollinator plants in the MARTA beds around the garden. It’s a pilot project showing how edible landscaping can be a successful option in urban settings.
Another invaluable resource is Hands On Atlanta that connects us with volunteers from around the city. We typically get 10 to 20 enthusiastic workers at our monthly Sunday morning events. We also get groups such as SK Collaborative, EY, Apple, and many college and highschool students volunteering their time (a special thanks to our downtown neighbors Newport, Centennial Yards and Mocha Pops who have generously supplied drinks and snacks to our volunteers).
The volunteers have helped us transform neglected, weed-filled planters into thriving spaces. Blackberries and muscadines are climbing the metal fencing around the garden. Elderberries and coneflowers fill out the pollinator garden that overlooks MARTA’s Peachtree St. entrance. We even have a dwarf peach tree with half a dozen peaches almost ready to pick (as far as we know, it’s the only peach tree on Peachtree).
The garden has also been a gathering space, not only for its members, but groups such as the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association. I’m an ADNA board member, and we’ve held a number of our board and monthly meetings in the garden – including two that featured MARTA’s plans presented by its design team for the redevelopment of the Five Points MARTA station.
We were assured by MARTA that there would be public engagement in the design process, as well as the Five Points Farm would be included in the plans. Recently, a number of renderings have been circling online with a comment from MARTA that these are “concepts” and no final design has been selected. One of the posterboard concepts currently displayed inside the MARTA station showed 18 raised beds next to an open-air soccer field. While we’re thrilled that the garden is included, it doesn’t include many of the features of a working community garden in an urban setting – one of the main being security. It’s essential that the design team reach out to the Five Points Farm gardening group to understand our successes and challenges so that the “community” in our community garden will continue in our new home. It’s also an exciting opportunity to bring in garden experts from around the city to create a new model for an urban community garden to incorporate best practices while potentially showcasing concepts such as edible landscapes, hydroponics, and possibly aquaponics.
While the Five Points Farm is only a small part of the overall new plan, I encourage MARTA to engage us and the other downtown stakeholders who can be a valuable resource to ensure the success of this exciting transformation. And I also invite your design team and anyone else interested in seeing what we’re about to join us for our next Sunday morning work session at https://volunteer.handsonatlanta.org/ (look for Five Points Farm).