If you look at the world as a patchwork of different cultures and experiences then the ever-binding thread weaving us all together despite our differences is food. Perhaps when Jamila Norman started Patchwork City Farms five years ago it was with this idea in mind. No matter your religion or ideology, race or creed, fresh fruits and vegetables are essential to your livelihood. The reality however was that in neighborhoods such as Atlanta’s historic West End, though there was a strong cultural richness, due to economic and social disparities there were very few healthy food options. Jamila’s response- simple, “We created the change we wanted to see”, and as their motto so candidly states: “You live and die by what you eat, so let’s start living”.
Nowadays it’s become second nature to go to your local Kroger, Publix, or other large grocery store when a few generations back you were going to your backyard or the local farmer for tonight’s dinner. Somewhere along the lines there was a paradigm shift. Rather than debate the cause and effect of such a shift, the work of Patchwork City Farms and its partnership with Brown Middle School in the the After-School All-Star Program hopes to inform the young minds of the new generation just how crucial urban agriculture is to society. With the support of Atlanta Public Schools, Patchwork City Farms has been able to teach students basic gardening skills and instill a greater appreciation for farming and the entire process. “We allow students to see the full process from seed to growth and finally to the farmers market.”
In the 1920’s there were nearly 1 million black farmers, the majority of which were family farms. Now with the dawn of mega-industrial farms the number has dwindled significantly. Growing up in the concrete jungle, Jamila was limited in her exposure to gardening and agriculture but her background in engineering and love for nature led her back to the earth. What began on one acre of land at Brown Middle School has now expanded with the inking of a new lease on a .5 acre plot of land that connects the West End and Oakland City Community. The site is managed by Greening Youth foundation and is know as the Urban Conservation Training Institute. The new site will be developed cooperatively as an agribusiness program known as the “Neighborhood Wellness Project”, by Greening Youth Foundation, Patchwork City Farms and Fresh2Health, funded by a grant from the Food Well Alliance. Patchwork City Farms’ expansion includes the important role as Grower for the project, a community initiative that brings economic development, green jobs training, and wellness education to the West End block by block, by providing accessible, quality, sustainable food production. “It’s not just about food” Jamila explains, “It’s also about creating economic opportunities!”
By being in charge of our food not only are we able to feed ourselves indiscriminately, but we also help to heal our bodies, our communities and the earth. “Growing foods not lawns is about creating and maintaining green space, reducing pollution, and increasing water retention”. It is no coincidence that Patchwork City Farms is found in a modest mean neighborhood. “Residents in Grant Park and Buckhead can afford to shop at Whole Foods” she frankly states, “those in modest mean neighborhoods deserve the same access”. Patchwork City Farms has a collaborative relationship with Grow Where You Are whose Good Shepherd Agro-Ecology center is .7 miles away from its Brown Middle School site. As a founding member of the South West Atlanta Growers Cooperative (SWAG Co-op) and through its partnership with Wholesome Wave Georgia, Patchwork City Farms and other vendors at markets in the West End will be accepting EBT and also doubling the value at local markets for locally grown produce. This is a crucial step for Jamila in furthering her vision. Money should not be a barrier to high quality food. This is precisely what will bind us closer as a human family in the coming years. Experience the paradigm shift and get involved.
Click on the red icon on the map below to find more info on Patchwork City Farms.
Story by Iman Folayan