Published 2 years ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Image: Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill/Facebook
The Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill caters to one of 35 food-insecure communities in Georgia’s capital — and provides a scalable model for other cities to begin to address this all-too-common systemic inequity in US cities.
Atlanta, Georgia is on a mission to address food insecurity for its
residents. Part of this mission includes the development of the country's
largest free food forest, stretching for 7.1 acres, and hosting 2,500
pesticide-free medicinal and edible plants.
A food forest is a
multi-layered ecosystem containing edible plants that mimic the processes and
patterns that take place in nature. It allows for a diverse ecosystem, whilst
also providing food and produce for residents in surrounding areas. Atlanta
is now hosting the biggest one in the country, providing food and nutrition
education for the roughly 6,600
of the Browns Mill neighborhood.
“It’s more than a place for food; people are able to learn here, to understand
about nature and urban agriculture, and the important role of both whilst
maintaining a healthy mind and body,” says Celeste Lomax, an herbalist, and
Food Forest Steward and Community Coordinator with Trees
Originally a pecan farm, the food forest was sold to developers with plans to
turn it into townhouses. Due to the recession in 2008, the deal fell through,
leaving it abandoned — until the Conservation
Fund purchased it in 2016. It was previously
illegal in Atlanta to grow food on residential lots; however, in 2014, an
was passed that permitted urban agriculture, which helped pave the way for the
food forest’s development.
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The push towards urban agriculture is a vital step for the health and wellbeing
of the people of Atlanta. Currently, in the perimeter of Metro
Atlanta, there are more than 35
—regions, typically in urban communities, where the residents have limited
access to healthy, affordable food (Lomax told
the nearest grocery stores are 5-6 miles away from Browns Mill). In densely
packed areas, there is often an unfair disparity between people with easy access
to fresh produce and those without. And those without tend to rely on food from
convenience stores and fast-food chains for sustenance, leaving them vulnerable
to health-related illnesses. As with many social injustices in the US, these
disparities disproportionately affect BIPOC
— which, due to decades of discriminatory practices such as redlining, have
subsequently become the most vulnerable to poor-quality food, hunger, obesity,
and other health-related problems.
Before COVID-19, the
statistics in Georgia showed that 1 in
8 people experienced food insecurity, as well as 1 in 16 children, and 1 in 13
seniors (aged 60+). The pandemic has exacerbated these statistics further. The
Atlanta Community Food Bank has seen a 300 percent
increase in inquiries from people
seeking food assistance; and it has distributed 30-40 percent more food each
week than in the same period before the pandemic.
Enter the Urban Food Forest at Browns
Mill, which was
conceived as part of Atlanta's broader mission to bring healthy food to 85
residents by 2022. The forest received a grant from the US Forest Service’s
and partnered with Trees Atlanta to aid in its development. Since officially
opening, the Food Forest offers Browns Mill residents fresh, seasonal food; and
an education into both agriculture and sustainability.
Image credit: Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill/Facebook
“We are delivering around 40 boxes of food to people in the community a week,
with each box weighing about 40 lbs — amounting to 1,600 pounds of food per month
to the immediate community,” Lomax says. “We harvest on Friday and put whatever
we harvest into these boxes. We also give harvested food to volunteers; and
anyone who comes, asks.”
Lomax also points to a popular program that connects the children in the
community to growing food and educational classes on the benefits of culinary
herbs, composting, pollination with bees, and bat boxes and the benefits of
having them: “The children love this space.”
“I have been part of this community for 10 years now, and the community really
appreciates what the forest is doing for the people who live in the
neighborhood. It is time for us to heal, and the forest is allowing us to do
that both physically and mentally.”
But, as with supermarkets, the stock only runs so deep. So, while Browns Mill’s
Urban Food Forest is a model for how other communities could address food
insecurity, this forest alone is not enough to solve food insecurity at scale —
with the organizers having to stress that their nutritional services cannot
stretch further than the residents that the forest intends to support.
Food forests are a promising potential solution for the estimated 23.5 million
living in food deserts across the US. By educating people about their diets and
the possibilities of urban agriculture, the Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill is
offering a solution that contributes to biodiversity and the health and
nourishment of its underserved urban community.
Published May 14, 2021 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
Scarlett Buckley is a London-based freelance sustainability writer with an MSc in Creative Arts & Mental Health.