Food Forest: Donated land to become food, education source

Visitors get a tour of the Browns Mill Food Forest in southeast Atlanta.

By Mario Cambardella
Urban Agriculture Director for the City of Atlanta

Recently, the city announced the acquisition of 7.1 acres of land in Southeast Atlanta to become a Community Food Forest.

The Browns Mill Food Forest will be the pilot program for the concept of a food forest, a first for the City of Atlanta. Food forests, in addition to providing a food source, develop ecological literacy by teaching people how plants grow and by helping foster a connection to the cultural and social history of a community through its plants.

The pilot program is funded by the U.S. Forest Service’s Community Forest Program grants to support communities across the U.S. to secure community forests. The Community Forest Program provides financial assistance grants to local governments, tribes and qualified nonprofit organizations working to establish community forests with a focus on economic and environmental benefits, education, forest stewardship, and recreation opportunities.

We applied for the grant with the goal of providing a community gathering outdoor space that would help improve access to fresh produce. Under Mayor Reed, Atlanta intends to reduce “food deserts” in the city by 75 percent by 2020.

The Browns Mill Food Forest will be an example of agroforestry, a form of agriculture that combines trees and shrubs with agricultural land uses to create more diverse, sustainable, healthy and productive land.

The food forest would incorporate the existing historical and culturally relevant crops that would have grown in Atlanta’s recent agrarian past. In fact, the site of the Browns Mill Food Forest was a working farm as recently as 2000. Neighbors still talk about Ruby and Willie Morgan’s farm and how the family would leave bags of their local produce on their fence posts for their neighbors to enjoy.

We’ve continued that neighborly focus by engaging with the community throughout the planning, acquisition and continued growth of our food forest. We went door to door to hear stories and thoughts about the project so that no one would be left out.

Our kickoff in November was well attended, and we provided tours of what’s currently growing on site and what other native food producing plants we could also add. Michael Murphy, community forest manager for the U.S. Forest Service’ Southeast region, tells us that “the food forest is a very interesting concept and because the land is in the middle of a neighborhood, it’s a really good fit for what [is] in mind.”

We want to continue to have that neighbor-oriented focus throughout the implementation of this concept and life of the food forest. We will have additional opportunities for community engagement. Should you have any questions regarding our Browns Mill Food Forest or on Atlanta’s urban agriculture as a whole, please reach out to me at MCambardella@atlantaga.gov

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley is the editor of Atlanta Intown.