Green Oasis: Aluma Farm providing fresh fruit and vegetables in food desert

Aluma Farm co-owners Andy Friedberg and Andrea Ness.

With coronavirus (COVID-19) potentially disrupting supply chains, local urban farms may become an even more precious resource. Aluma Farm, located in Southwest Atlanta on 3.8 acres along the Atlanta BeltLine’s Westside Trail, has kept its farmstand open and is offering a variety of veggie boxes for pre-order and pickup. They also have a selection of plant starts to create your own garden at home.

For updated information on hours and produce availability, check out the Facebook page at this link or @alumafarm on Instagram.

“Small urban farms are really providing a service to the community – green space, engage with nature and access to healthy foods/healthy eating,” said Aluma Farm co-owner and farmer Andy Friedberg.

Plant sales include starter plants like tomatoes, peppers, melons, and herbs for individual gardens. The Farmstand, which currently runs Thursdays 4-6 p.m., features vegetables, fruits, cut flowers and honey. Spring crops include greens (kale, arugula, collards, chard), carrots, green onions, green garlic, strawberries and more. During normal times, about 125 shoppers visit the Farmstand each week.

“Over the years, we’ve been able to get a feel for what people want,” said Aluma Farm co-owner and farmer Andrea Ness. Based on a 2018 survey, 85% of the farm’s retail customers live within a two-mile-walking distance.

“That was really exciting for us, because that means we are serving the community that’s right here,” Ness said. One that the USDA designated a food dessert with no grocery stores, markets or food co-ops.

The farmstand at Aluma Farm.

Aluma Farm also offers Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) options, in which members buy a harvest share before the spring/fall season and then receive weekly produce for 15-weeks. Options include: a full share of six weekly vegetables, a salad share of four weekly vegetables and a new prepaid gift card.

For the gift card, “you choose how much to pay, in advance. It’s more flexible if you travel a lot or have busy schedules,” Ness said. The farm still receives an upfront investment and cardholders use as often as desired.

To promote greater access, Aluma Farm offers a sliding scale CSA and partners with Wholesome Wave to double EBT dollars for customers receiving SNAP benefits.

“Last year 50 households (participated in the CSA). This year hoping to get up to 75,” Ness said.

Ness and Friedberg bring more than a decade of farming experience to this work. In California, Ness learned “beyond sustainable” practices of using farming to restore damaged ecosystems. During law school summer breaks, apprenticed at the Serenbe farm and later worked on urban farms in Massachusetts. The co-owners met Bamboo Creek Farm, Global Growers’ 15-acre incubator farm in Stone Mountain, while farming separate plots. Ness sold microgreens and specialty crops to local restaurants. Friedberg sold produce at farmer’s markets. They looked out for each other’s plots.

Their “natural partnership” led them to respond to the Atlanta BeltLine’s RFP to cultivate an urban farm on land the BeltLine had purchased, removed pavement, concrete and pollutants and conducted a full soil remediation.

“The soil had been so damaged and degraded from the clean up process and its former industrial uses. Our first year, we planted 10 beds of the heartiest crops. Everything sprouted, grew four inches tall then just died immediately. Our second year, we started bringing in compost and adding that to the soil. As of now, we have brought in 700 cubic yards of compost.” Ness said. “Last year we grew 22,000 lbs. of vegetables from about an acre of land.”

Ness and Friedberg just started their fifth year of production and are in discussion with the BeltLine about renewing their lease beyond February 2021. This BeltLine and City are focused on increasing affordable housing but the City also supports more urban farms and gardens.

Bounty from the farm.

On March 2, the Atlanta City Council extended the Aglanta Grows-A lot program, by accepting a $450,000 federal grant that requires a $150,000 match, to create more urban growing. This program is aligned with the City’s goal of 85% of Atlantans residing within a half-mile of fresh food by 2022.

One idea that has been brought up is to make room for both purposes by adding some affordable housing units in conjunction with the farm.

As the farm’s future is discussed, spring season crops will be available at the plant sales, Farmstand, CSA pick-ups and restaurant deliveries. And volunteering, group tours and workshops on gardening, pickling and wild fermenting will continue to draw the community in.

“We wanted to show that a farm can be a viable business, but we’ve realized – this opportunity in the middle of the neighborhood –we’re capable of a bigger role: a space for job creation, education, and quality of life,” Friedberg said.

“We would love the farm continue indefinitely and become a place for young farmers to gain experience to start their own farms,” Ness added.

Aluma Farm is located at 1150 Allene Ave. SW. Visit alumafarm.com for more information.

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