The city of Atlanta recently announced that it would be designating over seven acres of land in the city as an urban food forest, a parcel of land that will contain trees, bushes, fields, and community garden beds that are made up of an edible bounty harvestable by the local community; the land currently sustains pecans, black walnuts, grapes, and blackberries, but will be collaborating with members of the community to expand its offerings.
Councilwoman Carla Smith told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “It’s just like going into a park and picking muscadines from a bush.” In other words, harvesting food from this Urban Food Forest is free of charge, which is a small win for locals. Located in the Lakewood-Browns Mill neighborhood of Atlanta, the food forest will serve a community that experiences a relatively high rate of poverty: Over a third of the population lives below the poverty line. The land most recently had been purchased as sites for new residential condos, but was ultimately acquired earlier this month by the city from the Conservation Fund. CNN reported that the city, through purchases of this nature, is aiming to put over three-quarters of its residents in walking distance from fresh, locally grown food in the next two years.
Having access to food will help to support this community from a practical standpoint; as of today, nearly a quarter of the Atlanta metropolitan population living in a food desert, according to the USDA. Food deserts are regions that cannot produce or supply enough food to sustain the local communities.Because of this agricultural limitation, regions — especially in the South — have lost the opportunity to have autonomy over their food and consumption.
The Urban Food Forest will serve to honor the region by cultivating produce that is representative of its history and culture. Things like community gardens have been empowering to members of immigrant communities, allowing immigrants a chance to connect with their neighbors as well as to raise some flavors from home. The Urban Food Forestwill also blossom into an educational site for local schools.
An op-ed published a couple years in ago in the New York Times high-lighted the contributions of Fannie Lou Hamer, an advocate for agricultural independence in the American South. The author of the op-ed shared a quote from Hamer that described food independence as something that “allows the sick one a chance for healing, the silent ones a chance to speak, the unlearned ones a chance to learn, and the dying ones a chance to live.” Hamer felt that ownership of the land was one of the most effective ways to maintain power over one’s existence. This Urban Food Forest in Atlanta hopes to play at least a modest role in reclaiming some of this power.