Atlanta’s Director of Urban Agriculture: Urban Ag Can Transform a Community

Andrew Alexander reported earlier this month at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Online that, “At first glance, the urban Atlanta neighborhood of Washington Park doesn’t seem a likely place for an organic farm. But at the corner of Lawton Street and Westview Drive in west Atlanta, the non-profit organization Truly Living Well’s new Collegetown Garden brims with organic cabbages, kale, turnips, beets, carrots and more, all thriving in tidy rows of planter boxes. Pear, plum and apple trees blossom radiantly in the early spring sun, and a busy hive of honeybees buzzes away nearby.

“‘This can really be a lighthouse for nutrition for this neighborhood,’ says Mario Cambardella, the City of Atlanta’s first director of urban agriculture. Some might zero in on the signs of urban neglect and decay just outside the garden gates, but Cambardella is quick to point out the historic homes, the nearby elementary school and, on a street-facing the end of Truly Living Well’s new garden, the site of a future farmers’ market for the food being grown there.

“‘This is really building the local food economy. Urban agriculture can really transform a community.'”

The article noted that, “Cambardella was hired by the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability in 2015 to help guide projects like the Collegetown Garden to success. In the new position, Cambardella is responsible for a wide range of activities related to urban agriculture in the city, including agricultural policy development. He cultivates partnerships with local non-profits like Truly Living Well and also assists individuals and organizations in navigating the often byzantine process of permitting and zoning related to starting their urban agriculture projects.”

Mr. Alexander added that, “One goal is to transform Atlanta’s urban food deserts by bringing local, healthy food within a half-mile of 75 percent of all residents by 2020. ‘I have to show up everyday and give 110 percent,’ says Cambardella. ‘I have to be looking toward 2020. That’s a goal worthy of working toward.’

“And in the end, for him, urban agriculture is about far more than just food. ‘If we can fuel this type of activity, we can really build up points of access,’ he says. ‘And it’s about more than just lettuce. It’s the eyes on the street, it’s the kids coming to play and learn, it’s all these forces for good that create growth and cultural understanding. What’s coming out of the ground has so much value.'”

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