By contributing writer Sean O’Toole
September 2018 – 2 min. read
Urban agriculture is an integral part of human civilization. The ability to cultivate food consistently in one place was the impetus for the founding of the first human cities, and the need for a reliable supply of food has been one of the most critical concerns of every city since. This was no less true for early America. However, over time, our ability to factory farm massive quantities of food on faraway farms and then ship it to urban destinations reduced the need to keep farms and gardens close to home. The victory gardens of World War II — necessitated by the need to conserve for the war effort — were an oasis of urban agriculture that quickly dried up when postwar prosperity made them obsolete yet again.
In 21st-century America, there is no shortage of food. But there is a shortage of good food. Our cities are food deserts — areas lacking fresh, healthy whole foods. Instead, we subsist on the processed, the fast and the fattening. We are always fed but never nourished. In response to the epidemic of bad food, urban agriculture is making a resurgence in cities across the country, including Atlanta.
Atlanta residents were extremely vocal about the need to improve the quality of locally available food, and the city listened by making food part of the Resilient Atlanta Strategy, among other local initiatives. This led to the rise of the AgLanta Grows-A-Lot program, which makes vacant, city-owned land available to residents and nonprofits for the cultivation of fresh fruits and vegetables. The program represents a positive step toward Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ goal of putting 75 percent of Atlanta residents within a 10-minute walk of fresh food by 2020 and developing a resilient food system by 2025.
MARTA is also bolstering this effort. In 2015, the organization launched its Fresh MARTA Market as a pilot program with the goal of both helping farmers sell their produce and providing healthy, fresh food to the city’s residents in a convenient location. What could be more convenient than a MARTA station? The program currently operates at five stations following the recent opening of the Bankhead Market on September 19, 2018.
Leading construction company Skanska also understands the importance of resilience and urban farming. “Our Atlanta office was the first Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) Gold-certified office space in 2007,” Scott Cannon, Skanska’s executive vice president, told our Focus: Atlanta team. “We have two unique and sustainable projects underway in Atlanta: the Georgia Tech Living Building Challenge and an urban farm shed along the BeltLine. The shed is a 500-square-foot off-grid storage and workshed featuring a photovoltaic energy and storage system, composting toilet and the use of salvaged and locally milled wood products.”
Atlanta’s renewed commitment to urban agriculture in recent years is already beginning to have an impact. The total area of the city’s food deserts shrunk by 17 percent between 2010 and 2016 alone. Like other successful programs in the city, this is thanks in part to the enthusiastic creation of public-private partnerships intent on furthering the expansion of urban agriculture. AgLanta Grows-A-Lot is receiving assistance from groups such as the Fulton County Soil and Water Conservation District, NewFields, the Atlanta Community Food Bank and many more. Thanks to these efforts, Atlanta will not just grow in the future; it will also grow healthier.
For more information on the City of Atlanta’s resiliency efforts, visit the Office of Resilience website: https://www.atlantaga.gov/government/mayor-s-office/executive-offices/office-of-resilience
For more information on our interviewee, visit Skanska’s website: https://www.usa.skanska.com/who-we-are/contact-us/skanska-offices/atlanta-ga/