The Food Commons co-founders Jim Cochran and Larry Yee spent several days in Atlanta from November 15th-17th 2012 getting to know the region’s local food networks and meeting with stakeholders interested in this cutting edge regional food system development model. Hosted by Atlanta Metro Food & Farm Network (AM-FFN), meetings billed as round table discussions were held at the Atlanta Regional Commission and within the southwest Atlanta neighborhood of Mechanicsville at the Dunbar Neighborhood Center. With commitments from several participants in the sessions to join a steering committee, an Atlanta Food Commons has germinated with the potential to have a transformative effect on our metropolitan area’s food system.
The meeting co-hosted by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) was held 10:00am Friday November 16th, with consideration given to the 10-county metropolitan region as a food shed. Participants hailed from a broad cross-section of expertise and interests, including graduate students and university professors to professional planners, government officials, and labor advocates. Division Chief Dan Reuter of ARC’s Land Use department was on hand to welcome guests and express the organization’s willingness to continue serving as the people’s planning agency. The agenda moved swiftly with a report on AM-FFN’s Community Food System Assessment work for Choice Neighborhoods Atlanta, an overview of the previous ATL Food Commons exploratory meetings, and PowerPoint presentation on The Food Commons followed by a lively Q & A period. Many attendees expressed excitement about the model and had plans to join the following session in the afternoon as well.
A second meeting co-hosted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Atlanta Civic Site (ACS) occurred 2:00pm the same day within the conference room of The Center for Working Families Inc. This gathering varied slightly in that the focus was more targeted on the ATL Food Commons “Fertile Crescent”, a smaller concept envisioning a food community connecting the neighborhoods abutting Beltline Project subarea planning sections 1, 2, 9, & 10 in South-West Atlanta. Participants at this session were generally more community level stakeholders, including Neighborhood Planning Unit leaders and non-profit professionals to urban agriculture activists and area food bank staffers. ACS Senior Community Builder Moki Macias greeted guests on behalf of Director Gail Hayes and shared the foundation’s interest in food systems planning. Following a presentation on The Food Commons by the co-founders, AM-FFN Program Director Kwabena Nkromo shared details about the Fertile Crescent initiative. Several parties including the Fulton County Economic Development Division Administrator Kenneth Dobson, Atlanta Housing Authority Vice-President Trish O’Connell, and Beltline Partnership Program Director Rob Brawner committed to joining a Fertile Crescent Steering Committee that would work towards feasibility research and implementation of the concept (see visioning map below).
With the high level of interest experienced at both meetings and establishment of a development steering committee, The ATL Food Commons has arrived in a powerful way. The three components of the model (Food Trust, Food Bank, & Food Hub) will take root in the increasingly dense concentration of food sysem assets and urban agriculture sites within the neighborhoods of South-West Atlanta. Boasting the likes of Atwood Gardens & Urban Farm, Patchwork City Farms, and a Truly Living Well Natural Urban Farm at Good Shepherd Community Church, the West End neighborhood in particular is well positioned to grow further into a food powerhouse for its region as well as the greater Atlanta community.
The Food Commons co-founders visit to Atlanta rounded out with experiencing the best of our local food scene by dining at places like the 5 Seasons restaurant and Boxcar Grocer in Castleberry Hill. They also visited several outstanding urban agriculture organizations like the Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture at their Wheat Street site, the City of Refuge, and Atlanta Community Food Bank. Lodging for Jim and Larry was graciously provided by the East Lake Commons co-housing guest house, with the generous hospitality of Anne Colson. In addition, they enjoyed a home-cooked meal
prepared by AM-FFN Operations Coordinator Stephanie Radbill from locally grown ingredients served at the downtown home of local human rights icon Joe Beasley. “I’m not sure where to start—our trip to Atlanta was personally moving on so many levels”, writes Jim Cochran by email. “It is crystal clear to me (and I think to Larry as well) that our job now is to serve your work on the Atlanta Food Commons.”