We have just finished up the second round of CSA subscriptions and are very thankful for all of the people we were able to serve over the season. The mini-farm situated on 2nd Avenue and Hosea Williams Drive in the Kirkwood/East Lake community provides food for the direct community and into Atlanta. About an eighth of an acre is cultivated with raised beds on top of a concrete lot. The land along with the other 3 adjacent corners is owned by a local real estate firm and is up for sale. This farm was never intended to be a longstanding endeavor. There are specific plans that were made for the four corners which included some community led development some years ago when they were procured. These plans include for these plots being purchased and developed, and so the projects are currently on hold. The whole situation around this land and the projects is complex and yet urban agriculture is not, as of now, part of the long term plan.
Four years ago Uwezo Flewellen began working with Khari Diop and Khari’s urban growing endeavors, mainly across the street at the East Lake Garden. Three years ago the East Lake Community Urban Farm was developed, by the East Lake Farmer’s Market with guidance from Khari. Uwezo then, moved his efforts to working with this project. There has been confusion from the get go with the Farm (ELCUF) project and the management of it. After a year the East Lake Market was not financially able to keep up with the Farm and so management was transferred to the Southeastern Horticultural Society (SHS.) At the time, SHS was not particularly thrilled about managing the Farm and so there have been certain challenges with the facilities. This most recent year, we saw the already minimized East Lake Market shut down mid season, which took with it most of the customer base for our on-site market sales for the Farm. Generally, a farm project takes at least a couple of years to hit a stride. If longevity is never intended, then there is really never a plan for consistent success.
Folks who take on responsibility for feeding their community are few and far between these days. To strive to live a life based in service is not necessarily a quality promoted or upheld in our society. Especially if in order to do this service requires extra effort on part of the individual performing this work. Urban Agriculture has never demonstrated consistently itself as work which provides enough money to support a household. The actual work is generally done by people without extensive resources ie: vehicles, land, lots of equipment. Growers in this day, are entrepreneurs, staunch business people, workers against all-odds, beauty curators, landscapers, the clean-up crew, and much more! We are required and able to interface with the wide range of people.
For most of the 2014 Season, the Growers, Uwezo and Nicole, both either rode bicycles to the farm or walked. We had the support of Khari which was essential, especially with things like; volunteer groups, procuring seeds and extra compost deliveries (funded through SHS.) We were also supported by Eugene Cooke of Grow Where You Are, LLC (GWYA) for marketing, planning, and in the field.
For the 2014 season, SHS maintained the management role of ELCUF. The support we did receive from SHS was part-time hourly wages. All season, the former Executive Director of SHS offered very little communication to the growers about key components and operations of the farm. One example of a component which needed desperate attention was the water situation, which was as follows: the irrigation line laid out in the beginning was broken, the water main was shut off, there were two rainwater catchment tanks, both required a pump to move water to the beds and one that only filled a small amount off a small square footage area. SHS ignored every attempt to discuss this water situation and so the whole farm was watered with rain water by hand with watering cans all season. Water was a major challenge on such a hot site. When beds are created on top of concrete the heat index for the site is higher than if created on earth. When the management entity of these sorts of projects acts as a go between for the funders and the growers there can be many places for confusion. In the case of the ELCUF, there was very little enthusiasm about the site from the management Director.
The concerns over the water were a great challenge however the greatest obstacle we approached was the lack of true enthusiasm and involvement from the managing entity, SHS. Lack of communication, failure to come out and physically show presence and real involvement with the farm site is devastating to projects such as this which aim to improve the community. If non-profit organizations position themselves between the investors/landowners and the growers, then there is more opportunity for confusion. When, on the management entities end, they might be able to show pictures or stories about the project to potential investors, the folks on the land doing the work rarely see or have direct communication with them, and even less with the landowners/investors.
If we take a look at another site which SHS is a manager of, Good Samaritan Farm, we will see an example of another sort. This farm was set up because the land-owners were specifically interested in beginning a growing project and are invested in more ways than just funding monetarily. The farm is built into the operations of, and onsite at the Good Samaritan Hospital. This farm, in just one year, has made a majestic transformation into a beautiful well functioning program. The grower who has just very short experience in growing, was trained and consulted by GWYA, of which Nicole is Operations Coordinator. SHS also came to GWYA to find a farmer in residence to work with Uwezo for the 2014 season. Since hearing that the land on which the East Lake Community Urban Farm is situated has no formal agreement with SHS, we are clearer about why the disfunction and confusion have occurred this season. If we could have been in direct contact with the land-owners, perhaps the bottleneck effect that we have experienced would have been minimized. As Uwezo puts it, “Our biggest concern is having funders and supporters who are truly involved in the Healthy Food Movement. The growers are enthusiastic, we are looking to partner with supportive entities who are mutually as enthusiastic as we are, folks who understand the impact we can have with support and mutual vision of long-standing and maintained systems! We need to work together with people who are willing to come out, show up and get the food!” We rarely saw a person from SHS come out and get food this whole season!
Whereas there were these key challenges with the site, we were able to build community relationships and provide great healing food and experiences for a number of people. We sold over 1600 lbs of produce. That number does not include the food that our families, volunteers and folks in need in the community received. We produced over 2000 lbs of food from April through September. We led multiple service groups through educational experienced based projects (in total over 100 volunteers) and instructed 10 regular community volunteers. We provided CSA subscriptions to a local preschool, Turning Sun, which fed 10 families with weekly bags of our produce for 16 weeks, as well as a community CSA which provided bags for 7 families for 8 weeks. The success of the ELCUF is told not only through the story of the amount of food grown for the people and the number of people who came out to engage and learn, it is also told by the story of Uwezo Flewellen. He has been trained as a Urban Grower on the job and now can manage the site. We also were able to, with our profits from sales, to hire a local youth, as an apprentice with a stipend which totaled $600 for the season. He was essential to the farm operations for the 2014 season and at 16, has begun business plans to run an Urban Agricultural business. Over the three years, the work at ELCUF has turned out over 7,500 pounds of food, all on about an ⅛ acre!
The farm was shut down early in November as the final CSA program came to a close. The future of the Farm for next season is unknown to us as of now however we do know that there is community interest and desire to see fresh food grown in the neighborhood! We have heard that the East Lake Foundation would like to situate the farm in another location. If this is the case, it might not be necessary to hire a management entity to administer the work. When growers can get into direct partnerships with landowners who are equally as enthusiastic about the work, then we will come up with creative functioning projects.