by Kwabena Nkromo
Atlanta Metro Food & Farm Network (AM-FFN) believes that urban agriculture is one of the best ways to build and strengthen communities. A core part of our mission is to help re-connect neighbors with each other, the land around them, and the food they could eat from that land. One of the most simple and popular, but often profound forms of urban agriculture are community gardens. As stated within an article on the website of Houston’s Urban Harvest, “A community garden, if put in the right place and sufficiently supported, provides a public demonstration that residents can build something beautiful together.” In a southwest Atlanta neighborhood, a right place for a great community garden is a small “pocket park” in the middle of a residential lane called Welch Street.
The Welch Street Park (WSP) Community Garden is in the Pittsburgh community, on a block where 50% of the houses are vacant. The Pittsburgh Community Improvement Association (PCIA) established the garden in order to bring a source of fresh fruits and vegetables to Pittsburgh and to maximize the use of park greenspace. Through a partnership with the Social Justice Committee of Georgia Tech, residents were able to choose their own design for the garden. Since there are no grocery stores in Pittsburgh or the neighboring communities, the garden provides a much needed opportunity for residents to grow their own produce (Source: Park Pride website).
AM-FFN was able to follow the excellent work done by Pittsburgh neighborhood residents and other stakeholders by partnering with PCIA with an application to Park Pride’s “mini-grant” program. Through the generous support of the Cecil B. Day Family Foundation, Park Pride awards small matching grants to support improvements to neighborhood parks located in the City of Atlanta. Our successful application was focused on enhancing WSP Community Garden’s effectiveness by assessing and improving the soil quality within the raised garden beds, as well as installing rainwater catchment barrels to provide irrigation alternatives for the site which currently lacks a dedicated city water supply. Other partner organizations with project implementation include Westside Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA) and the Atlanta Community Food Bank’s Community Gardening Program.
After the grant was awarded, several meetings were held at PCIA’s offices with members of the WSP Community Gardening club to provide information and schedule Work Days to complete the project. Despite two delays due to inclement weather, garden club members were joined by AM-FFN staff and student volunteers from Shiloh High School’s Future Business Leaders of America club for a beautiful day in the garden on Saturday March 24, 2012. These energetic and hard working young women were brought to the Work Day by coordinator Lili Crymes as part of the Food Bank’s volunteer program. Community building gold was found in the intergenerational and cross-town interaction between the volunteers and the generally older garden club members.
An additional important demographic that was on-site for the Work Day were the young children of myself, AM-FFN Managing Partner Colette Joly (also the photographer for the great images in this article), and Darryl Haddock of WAWA. While the toddlers didn’t truthfully get much useful work done (unless you count digging in beds already planted), they were being exposed to a potent experience of healthy community and an early positive relationship with their natural environment. In the middle of having fun in the sun, they were learning about the positive role that grubs and worms play in the process of growing food. The pride on their faces after having pulled up their share of weeds was priceless and certainly worth the investment by all of us involved with this project. To me, urban gardening is community building done right!
Kwabena Nkromo is the Lead Partner and Founder of Atlanta Metro Food & Farm Network.