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Urban Agriculture in the Westside: Growing Community Resilience and Healing

Introduction by John Ahmann, President & CEO of Westside Future Fund

 This week’s guest column is by Kim Karris, executive director of the Food Well Alliance.  Thanks to the philanthropy of the James M. Cox Foundation, the Food Well Alliance was founded under the leadership of its current and inaugural chair, Bill Bolling. Kim was a member of the start-up team of the Food Well Alliance. Kim brings tremendous passion, conviction and commitment to her work. I am grateful for her leadership to help grow healthier, local food across Atlanta and especially the Westside with an eye to equity. During the planning process for the 2017 Westside Land Use Framework Plan, residents of the Historic Westside Neighborhoods voiced their support for existing urban agriculture and its expansion on the Westside as key to improving the overall quality of life. 

In her column, Kim notes that Food Well Alliance has granted over $800,000 to organizations serving the Westside – 30% of whom are working in the Westside Future Fund’s target neighborhoods. One of the recipients is Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture, a leader in urban agriculture that is helping to support Westside Future Fund’s community health and wellness and cradle-to-career education impact areas. Last spring, I was pleased to have Truly Living Well’s executive director, Carol Hunter lead a panel with Kim and Dr. Margul Retha Woolfolk, Principal of M. Agnes Jones Elementary School at the April 19 Transform Westside Summit. If you missed it, I encourage you to watch a replay of the Facebook Livestream.  It’s amazing!

Urban Agriculture in the Westside: Growing Community Resilience and Healing

Kim Karris

By Kim Karris, Executive Director of Food Well Alliance

When Food Well Alliance was founded in 2015, the number of community gardens, urban farms, and farmers markets across metro Atlanta was noticeably on the rise. The recognition of disparities in access to healthy food and its connection to chronic, diet-related disease had reached national attention. And at the same time, the concept of a “local food movement” was now commonly used to describe a growing trend of consumers and farmers promoting locally grown food as an environmental alternative to industrial, chemically-intensive agriculture.

Indeed, the paradox of local food in Atlanta — who has access to it, how it’s grown, and where it comes from — galvanized Food Well Alliance’s mission from the start. We spent the first three years convening hundreds of community leaders, policymakers, and urban growers listening to the challenges they collectively faced and validating potential solutions. Since 2015, we have regranted $3.5 million from the James M. Cox Foundation directly into over 150 organizations — farms, gardens, entrepreneurs, nonprofits — who were all using locally grown food to rebuild communities in metro Atlanta.

We learned a lot. When Food Well Alliance published Atlanta’s first Local Food Baseline Report in 2017, it revealed that simply increasing access to food retailers did not directly affect food choices and health outcomes. Rather, when you invest in a community garden or urban farm, the “return” is in the health of residents, the safety of neighborhoods, and the environmental quality of ecosystems. Gardens and farms produce so much more than healthy, local food. They are intergenerational community hubs; they are educational spaces; they are inspiration for self-reliance and healing.

Today, Food Well Alliance is a collaborative network of local leaders working together to build thriving community gardens and farms across metro Atlanta. We believe that food is a tool to build equitable communities and that thriving gardens and farms strengthen the heart of cities. As the metro Atlanta region continues to grow, our cities are rapidly becoming more dense and developed. This has a direct impact on the long-term viability of community gardens and urban farms.

We are at a critical moment in time, in the face of redevelopment and displacement, where both local government and communities must prioritize food-producing spaces in the future of our region.

This could not be more true than in the Westside. Neighborhoods often described as so-called food deserts are concentrated with thriving urban agriculture. Since 2015, Food Well Alliance has granted over $800,000 in 35 innovative organizations in the Westside. Nearly 30% of our recipients are working in the Westside Future Fund’s target neighborhoods.

By looking past the “desert” metaphor, we see how Westside communities are addressing the decades of disinvestment that have depleted their neighborhoods of healthy food and retail options — and appreciate the incredible resilience of residents.

In all the Westside neighborhoods combined, there are:

10 Urban Farms

  1. Aluma Farm
  2. Concrete Jungle’s Doghead Farm
  3. Gilliam’s Community Garden
  4. Grow Where You Are
  5. Mena’s Farm
  6. Patchwork City Farms
  7. Providence Missionary Baptist Church
  8. The Good Samaritan Health Center Urban Farm
  9. Truly Living Well Collegetown Farm
  10. West End Community Urban Garden

19 Community Gardens

  1. Campbellton Community Garden
  2. Capitol View/Jesse Dill Community Garden
  3. Carver Hills Community Garden
  4. Collier Heights Park Garden
  5. Elm Street Urban Garden
  6. Garden at Collegetown
  7. Greening Youth Community Garden @UCTI Atwood Learning Center
  8. i SIP Earth Gardens (Whitehall Terrace)
  9. Joy & Reflect Gardens
  10. Mother Clyde Memorial West End Garden
  11. Nuleaf Community Garden Project
  12. Oakland City Community Garden
  13. QLS Haven Senior Community Garden
  14. The Garden of Plenty (Beloved Community Church Pittsburgh)
  15. The Laundry Center Garden Club
  16. Urban Fresh Community Garden
  17. Vine City Community Garden/Hope With Gardens
  18. Westview Community Garden
  19. Winter Spring Community Garden

9 Farmers Markets

  1. Aluma Farm Farmstand
  2. Bolton Road Farmers Market
  3. Fresh MARTA Market Bankhead Station
  4. Fresh MARTA Market H.E. Holmes Station
  5. Fresh MARTA Market West End Station
  6. The Good Samaritan Health Center Farmstand
  7. Truly Living Well Market at Collegetown Farm
  8. West End Farmers Market
  9. Westside Growers Market (Historic Westside Gardens)

7 Community Food Organizations (working on nutrition education and food access)

  1. Community Movement Builders
  2. Concrete Jungle
  3. Covenant House Georgia
  4. Historic Westside Growers ATL
  5. Northwest Youth Power
  6. Organix Matters For All
  7. The Come Up Project

These spaces where food is grown and shared on the Westside are where community and self-reliance thrive. By acknowledging the exploitative history of agriculture in the South, gardens and farms become beacons of hope and sacred spaces to reconnect to the land, return to where our food comes from and to the people who have the ecological wisdom to steward it. Like most places in the world, the garden and farm are not just a hobby or pastime, they are places of heritage, learning, and healing.

Programmatically, Food Well Alliance does three things to help gardens and farms become more viable: First, we equip growers with the tools they need to produce healthy food for their communities through our Resource Center, which includes volunteers, tools, grants, workshops, and compost. Second, we empower local government leaders to develop inclusive policies and plans that include the voices and participation of growers at the decision-making tables. Third, we design and execute unforgettable events and educational experiences that connect communities to where their food comes from.

One of our largest community events is the annual Soil Festival at Truly Living Well Farm in Ashview Heights where over 1,500 Atlantans young and old come to learn about the importance of healthy soil for healthy food production; attendees also learn that anyone can help growers by composting their food scraps from their kitchen right here in our city. If you didn’t make it this year, take a look! [https://vimeo.com/338922115]

Urban agriculture not only brings people together, but it can also radically transform the way we develop cities and build healthier, more equitable communities. We know that any efforts to eliminate disparities in health, housing, education, or even food access must address of structural inequality, poverty, and racism. In the Westside in particular, communities are driving their own solutions through building gardens and farms and creating neighborhood green spaces for spiritual nourishment and collective healing. The time is now to see our interconnectedness and work together to uplift these community spaces as our city grows.

Join us.

You can access resources or volunteer at a nearby garden or farm at www.foodwellalliance.org and follow recent updates on Instagram @foodwellalliance.


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