UGA cooperative extension to help farmers create Atlanta ‘food hub’

Posted: Friday, November 1, 2013 12:00 pm

UGA cooperative extension to help farmers create Atlanta ‘food hub’
Daniel Funke

When Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent Todd Leeson started his new job on Oct. 1, the seed for a new locally grown food community near Atlanta was planted.

“[What] we are hoping to solve is to keep the area at least 70 percent rural,” he said. “We want to bring back the small family farm into the area of Chattahoochee Hills.”

When Leeson came to work, a UGA Cooperative Extension within the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences initiated a collaborative funding project with the Chattahoochee Hill Country Conservancy in south Fulton County to promote the sustainable development of local agriculture. The project primarily focused on supporting local farmers in their production and sale of crops in Chattahoochee Hills, a small rural town about 30 minutes south of Atlanta.

“Our mission is to revitalize and grow farming in the 33,000-acre city of Chattahoochee Hills,” said Alan Merrill, chair of the Chattahoochee Hill Country Conservancy’s Board of Directors. “We want to help new farmers establish additional organic produce farms and to assume ownership of existing livestock farms, and we want to enhance the productivity of our farms.”

The project hopes to aid farmers to provide citizens of Atlanta with more locally grown food, while providing a model for responsible agricultural techniques.

“This entails enhancing our product offering from the farms and expanding our selling efforts in the Atlanta metro area. Already, some of Atlanta’s best restaurants and farmer’s markets list their produce as being grown in Chattahoochee Hills,” Merrill said.

Leeson’s jobs include teaching farmers on urban gardening, sustainable agriculture, urban landscape maintenance and water and natural resource conservation. UGA Cooperative Extension coordinator Menia Chester said the benefits of the partnership are multi-faceted.

“If we develop sustainable agriculture in that area of Fulton County, then we are assisting farmers, we are assisting the people of that community, and we will be able to have these farmers bring their food into downtown Atlanta,” she said.

Chester went on to explain that one of the long-term effects of the project would be to create a food hub in Atlanta.

“We hope to have our own food hub, and that way we know where our food comes from, and we’re able to help people,” she said.

A food hub would make it easier for local farmers to sell their products in the market at retailers such as The Fresh Market and Whole Foods, giving the people of Atlanta more access to locally-grown foods.