This article appeared in the October 2016 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
A once vacant city-owned property that languished for decades in the city of Lovejoy is now a lush, city-operated 14 acre farm. In its first year, 2014-2015, the farm produced over 180,000 pounds of produce, which was given away to Lovejoy residents and sold on a sliding scale to outside residents and customers. Across the street from the City Garden sits the Robert Deyton Detention Center of which the first farm employees hired were once former inmates. If you follow the train tracks north half a mile, you’ll find a building the city has rehabbed and leased to a local chef, one of a few seated restaurants in Lovejoy. For Lovejoy, food is increasingly becoming the answer to many of the community’s challenges.
The produce is given away to Lovejoy residents or sold to outside residents.
Lovejoy residents enjoy crafts in the garden.
Many Georgia towns and cities are building resilient communities by expanding and enhancing points of access to fresh, local food. Two years ago, the city of Atlanta passed an Urban Agriculture and Zoning Ordinance and later hired its first Urban Agriculture Director. Atlanta is now planning its first urban food forest with a grant from the USDA. As the city of Atlanta steps up to the challenge of creating better, healthier food access, it encourages other institutions and agencies to do the same, MARTA has opened four MARTA Fresh Markets so healthier options are more convenient for residents. Atlanta Public Schools has hired its first Farm to School Director.
Other cities like Savannah and Winterville have improved land access by permitting community gardens on public land. And cities like East Point, Statesboro and Gainesville play an active role in supporting their farmers markets. All of these cities are re-envisioning their future together by creating better fresh and local food access for businesses and residents.
Georgia Organics, a statewide nonprofit, is working with cities to begin asking the questions that are not typically asked—what do we want our food future to look like? How do we transform our city from a food desert to a food oasis that makes residents healthy, regenerates our natural resources and builds our local economies?
City efforts are linking urban and rural communities and agriculture in innovative ways that keep dollars local and lifts farmer prosperity. If every Georgia household spent $10 weekly on Georgia-grown produce—blueberries, collards, okra—that would generate $1.9 billion dollars annually for our state’s economy. That’s a powerful and tangible way for businesses and residents of every town or city to drive a healthy, local and organic food economy that nurtures public and environmental health.
The Georgia Food Oasis campaign is a collaborative platform for residents, businesses, agencies and community leaders to come together and adopt strategies that address food access, supply and consumption. These strategies can lead to a food landscape that is apparent, welcoming, and inclusive, so that healthy food choices become instinctual and readily available. Georgia Food Oasis is a dynamic opportunity for cities to transform the way we eat, cook and grow a healthy food future.
To learn more about how your downtown area can start a Georgia Food Oasis campaign, contact Georgia Organics’ Community Outreach Coordinator, Suzanne Girdner
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