Atlanta has something amazing growing just 10 minutes away from one of the busiest airports in the world. It’s a plot of land just over seven acres large, filled with 2,500 pesticide-free edible and medicinal plants: The nation’s largest free food forest.
And perhaps the best thing about it is it’s located in a southeast Atlanta neighborhood where the closest grocery store is a 30-minute bus ride away. In “food deserts” like that, it can be challenging to find good, healthy food — especially fruits and vegetables. But the Urban Food Forest at Browns Mills is doing that, and in the process illustrating what’s possible in our nation’s cities.
The land where the food forest now stands has a history as a farm, but it was zoned to become townhouses under a plan that didn’t quite come to fruition. So, as CNN reports, the land was purchased by Atlanta’s Conservation Fund in 2016, and in part thanks to a federal grant, was transformed into the oasis that it is today.
“Access to green space and healthy foods is very important. And that’s a part of our mission,” said Michael McCord, a certified arborist and expert edible landscaper who helps manage the Urban Food Forest.
As CNN reported, “The forest is part of the city of Atlanta’s larger mission to bring healthy food within half a mile of 85% of Atlanta’s 500,000 residents by 2022, though as recently as 2014, it was illegal to grow food on residential lots in the city.”
It went on to report, “Resources like the food forest are a rarity and necessity in Atlanta as 1 in 6 Georgians face food insecurity, 1 in 3 Browns Mill residents live below the poverty line, and 1 in 4 Atlantans live in food deserts so severe, some find it more apt to call the problem ‘supermarket redlining.'”
“We host lots of students for field trips, and for a lot of them, it’s their first time at a garden or farm or forest,” explained McCord. “So here they get to experience everything urban agriculture and urban forestry all in one day. It’s really special.”
More than 1,000 volunteers help to maintain the food forest, with as many as 50 of those volunteers checking in on a single day to help maintain the food forest.
Initiatives to make urban cities more edible are catching on, there are actually more than 70 free food forests in the country, with thousands of pounds of food harvested each year from ones in Seattle, Wash., Portland, Ore., and Asheville, N.C. McCord told CNN he believes that’s a sign that urban agriculture is moving in the right direction.
“Everything out of a park space is a teachable moment, whether it be trees, trails, bees or vegetables,” he observed. “That’s what’s most important to me — that we’re raising awareness about sustainability and agriculture.”