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Tag Archives: urban agriculture

Monsoon Season

You can’t have a Farmers Market without the land & crops getting an adequate amount of rainfall. However, conducting a market while it rains can prove to be a real challenge.  During yesterday’s East Atlanta Village Market a storm hit the east side of town…hard. Heavy rainfall started only seconds after I had received my SNAP & Wholesome Wave tokens. Baby in tow, I rushed underneath Little Tart Bakeshop’s tent, alongside one of the market’s musicians, a violin player wearing her tip jar cleverly strapped as a backpack.  What happened next can only be described as an accelerated storm front whipping across us, with continuous heavy rainfall accompanied by strong winds, ripping on all of the vendors tents. Every now and then sunshine peeked in the distance, toying with the hope of all market participants that this could end any second now.

Peek the pictures of the treacherous down-pour:

The market manager, noticeable in part in the distance, is checking the sky to look for signs for market to be continued or broken down.

Vendors lowered their tents to keep wind and rain at bay. Regardless of the storm, a few shoppers continued to show up.

Children and their parents stayed at the market even during the hardest of rain

Children running in the distance.

Arguably my favorite shot. Collected water collapses from Lil Tart shops tent, at this point we were soaked holding on to the tent’s posts to keep it from being blown away.

Istill managed to buy a few items; thankfully & due to the help of various folks, who scrambled to get me a feasible umbrella, kept my baby & I entertained, dry & save for a couple of hours at the market, plus of course the farmers who nourish our lives!

Furthermore, did you know that you can use the same tokens from East Atlanta’s market at Grant Park Farmers Market on Sundays? If you ever forget a few items & have left over tokens to spare, you don’t have to wait a whole week to make use of them.

I thought my experience at the market was yet again a real testament to community and how well people can work together and stand their ground. It is certainly something we need more of in today’s times.

~ Cheerio

Explore Natures Strength – Wild Edibles Demystified

When a chef tells me, he or she prefers ingredients via a particular farm, I don’t just ask why but also quickly be-line to that farm stand. Chef Angus just purchased a few vegetables from Crack in the Sidewalk Farmlet, when I encountered him at the East Atlanta Farmers Market. Angus, who’s previously incorporated local farm goods from Many Fold Farms at Miller Union, has come up with a deliciously distinct late night menu for Octopus Bar in East Atlanta Village. Who says your taste buds don’t need indulgence at 3am!

While browsing the vegetable selection at Crack in the Sidewalk’s stand, bags of small leaved, dark green salad mixes, topped with wood sorrel flowers catch my eye. My senses tell me this is what I want! The wild edible salad mix includes next to Wood Sorrel, Henbit, Dead-nettle alongside other Georgia native greens. The flavors are so potent and nutrient dense it can be used as a garnish, mixed in with cultivated lettuces or as an added spice to soups, terrains, simply let your creativity run wild – pun intended.

Coincidentally, Chris & Isiah who run the 2 acre Farmlet are offering a Wild Edibles workshop the same weekend. The farm is nestled next to a golf course and an array of sporadically populated and foreclosed homes. The couple moved to the location roughly four years ago. Since then next to cultivating plants via traditional agricultural methods, the lands native plants have become part of their harvest. A quite genius approach to farming utilizes the adaptable strength of wild plants to create an ecologically balanced & diversified approach to winning food from the land.

‘With Foraging’ , as Chris explains, ’there is a significant amount of opportunity, to connect with the areas around you.’ Once you become aware of edible wild greens, berries, pecans etc. you can find them everywhere, even in downtown major cities, parks or the middle of neighborhoods. Miseducation throughout generations, however, has perpetuated the stigma of wild foods being poisonous and/or polluted. In reality the amount of poisonous wild edibles is rather small and wild foods that might even kill you are proportionally speaking even smaller. The advantages of wild foods next to promoting health and self-sufficiency, also include:

  • Easier to cultivate due to plants strong sense of adaptability and resistance to bugs (seed saving)
  • Incredibly nutrient dense
  • Healing properties
  • Young leaves are most tender and delicious
  • Take little to no work
  • Free

While nature creates abundance and can in fact include poisonous species, it is important to study plants in order to know how to identify them correctly. Nevertheless, the healing compounds of plantains for instance can aid bee stings or snake bites or consider the super food characteristics of Mulberries, which can literally be found anywhere in Atlanta, making wild foods a worthwhile study for the adventurous urban or suburban dweller.

Many Fold Farm – Part of a new generation

Many Fold Farm is located in Palmetto, Georgia in a beautiful country side with a total of 101 acres, 28 acres of which are dedicated to pasture. Rebecca & Ross Williams have run their farm near Fayetteville for about three years. Mostly East Friesian sheep are making up the herd at Many Fold Farm, along with 80-150 chickens, 150 adult sheep and their 75-80 (and more every day) lambs that get moved to a different field once a day.

The husband & wife team are in full swing of their lambing season at Many Fold Farm. They are getting ready to start a sheep creamery this summer, inevitably kicking the work load up a notch with milking the sheep every two to three hours.

A typical day starts out by feeding the chickens and moving the sheep. Emergency tasks arise as with any business, in this instance a waterline busted in one of the fields & needed to be fixed.

One of their biggest challenges is finding and connecting to the right vet that’s accessible not necessarily in the same area, although preferred but that could even be reached via skype while out on the field.

Farmer Ross Williams went to Warren Wilson College, right outside of Asheville North Carolina, a work college that in addition to class room studies offers 15 hours of work studies out on the farm. Farmer Rebecca’s family has had a garden ever since she can remember and she since then has jumped right in and learned everything she knows out on the field.

The farming system they incorporate can be described as grass based system, with some stacking of different type of life stock in a rotational grass zone. The grazing follows a pattern of disturb and then rest. First disturbing an area by letting sheep graze, followed by a rest period of many weeks or months to help maximize the grass and growing.

Sheep have their very own species specific characteristics and associated prejudices. What some people may mistake as meek or weak, sheep farmers call a timid curiosity. They are quiet animals that are very smart in their own way. Although smart as individuals, Farmer Ross tells me, they are really smart as a whole. Sheep, true hurt animals, operate as a unit when they come together.

What I found most intriguing besides the very calming ambiance produced by the chewing noise of the sheep grazing, is that the milk sheep produce is very rich in property, perfectly suited for certain skin type products and cheeses that I am only imagining to taste as of now. I will certainly check back once the creamery is in place and am looking forward to more Many Fold Farm goodness.

Decimal . Place Farm – 18 Acres of Goat Heaven

On the outskirts of the East side of Atlanta lays the popular Hipster landmark the Starlight Drive In; once passed, the eye meets billboards, gas stations and neighborhoods sprawling of a main road. Inconspicuously tugged away in the midst of a sleepy neighborhood are 18 acres of goat country – white Saanen dairy goat ‘country’ to be exact.

It’s a dreary day when I pull up to Decimal Place Farm. I know I am at the right place when I see a line of white goats standing on the higher ground looking towards me. Nestled at the end of a cul da sec Mary Rigdon has appropriately named her farm Decimal Place Farm.  She walks swiftly towards the car and directs me to the gate that leads to the goats and milking facility. I notice the acres of land surrounding us as the car slowly follows behind her steps in the mud.

Mary has been a dairy goat farmer for over 20 years and the land in Conley, Georgia for 17 years in her possession. It took patience and perseverance to acquire this land. Once she owned it, a milking facility had to be built and the right dairy equipment needed to be purchased. The process required assessing her resources critically, understanding how power lines were laid out & addressing functionality by getting the goats in and out of the buildings most efficiently. All of which she accomplished by using the means she had. In a time of credit defaults Mary’s sensible approach makes her somewhat of a modern day hero.

Her goats are having babies during the first few months of the year and I get a brief look into just how busy she gets. Mary is feeding the babies and checking on the becoming mothers periodically, meanwhile the rest of the herd still has to be milked. The days have a rhythm. She takes me outside to one of the grasing areas, while telling me how her lifestyle approach may be more of what people are talking about now and farm life is seeping into the mainstream but she has been living this way since the early 80s. She explains that in order to build the herd and utilize the land fencing had to be done. Grazing plots, comprised of clover, rye grass, a nitrogen fixing grass mix were created for limit grazing spans also called mammoth grazing. Mary tiled a few rows of soil for crop mob to come in and finish the sowing for new grazing plots. Crop Mob will also fix one of her fences and help get debris out of the creek.

Crop Mob, an initiative of young farmers and land enthusiasts, come together to help local farmers with a variety of projects around their farm. It builds the type of community interaction less reliant on monetary exchange. Being outside and learning some hands on farming know how, derived from years of experience, are plenty of reward for getting your hands dirty. At the end of each crop mob-tastic work day a dinner is shared between all the volunteers and farmers.

At the end of our excursion through the 18 acres of Decimal Place Farm, she hands me back my seven month old, that’s been carefully observing everything from her arms. She tells me about groups of children coming to the farm to learn about dairy goats, land preservation, gardening and making a living in this manner. When I ask her if she could envision anything for the future of the American food system, what would that look like, she takes time to think before answering. In her point of view we all receive the same amount of hours in the day. What we do with them is up to us & ultimately defines who we are. She questions peoples ingenuity or lack thereof. When a neighbor gives you grits in exchange for some of your goods, you learn how versatile that item can be. Furthermore, she adds she doesn’t like okra or rather the way most people in the south cook it but its an awfully space conducive and high yield type of vegetable. Therefore, she researched how to prepare Okra resulting in a dish sans a slightly gooey texture and utilizes its properties on her farm.

Did I mention just how delicious Decimal Place Farm goat cheese is? Seriously, you can’t go wrong with trying some of the creative flavors (i.e. amaretto orange chevre, pecan craison chevre, and cracked peppercorn chevre) either at a local health food stores such as Rainbow Grocery Market or Pine Street Market. During the summer time, Decimal Place Farm chevre, tuma or cheddar style goat cheeses can be located at the East Atlanta Farmers Market, Peachtree Road Market and Grant Park Farmers Market.

~ Enjoy, live well & be kind to one another

C.H. – Real Time Farms Winter Food Warrior, 2012

Post Apocalyptical Farming – PodPonics

Do you ever walk past a vacant building & think about what else it could be? Surely, in the post housing bubble apocalypse we call today, vacant buildings aren’t hard to come by. Why not just tear them down & use the land differently – like growing food?  In order for land to be reverted to arable land, the process due to having to expel mercury, sulfates etc., the byproducts of constructing & maintaining a building, requires extensive and expensive solutions. As a matter of fact fertile soils take thousands of years, requiring a combination of climate, geology, biology and a smidgen of luck.

I attributed my vision of a hydroponic farm land in form of vertical inner city farms housed in old Macy’s buildings or Ford plants, more to the heavy duty Science Fiction & Fantasy influence my grandpa and mom put me through as a child. As it turns out, thinking outside of the box couldn’t be more timely, even if it puts the thinker right back into one. The box more specifically a shipping container and the visionaries: the entrepreneurs of PodPonics.

PodPonics came into existence in 2010, Matt Liotta, founder and CEO of the company tells me. The motivation behind the endeavor: to create pesticide free, locally grown lettuce that laughs at the carbon footprint comparison to California grown lettuce not to mention its incredible freshness, texture and taste. Don’t be fooled by labels mentioning fresh. PodPonics will have the first bite of lettuce savoring in your mouth within hours after harvest. The only way to get fresher than that is grassing on an edible wall perhaps?! What originally started out as a couple of shipping containers on Ponce de Leon has now grown into a total of 16 containers, located near Hartsfield International Airport.

Matt’s done his research & knows his main competitor well. Conventionally grown California lettuce produces eleven and a half tons per acre versus 989 tons per acre that PodPonics patent pending systems can bring forth. In a test market Whole Foods priced PodPonics Spring Mix at $3.49 per bag, a lucrative slot between $3 priced California lettuce and the $4 organic brand. It’s hard to imagine our local stores without hydroponically grown goods from here on out. The benefits are too stark to miss. Hydroponics applications can be highly controlled & independent from climate changes. While tied to the grit PodPonics has figured out how to run operations with off-peak energy.  Simultaneously, the minimal amount of space it takes to grow a vast amount of crops has attractive implications for highly populated dense urban areas.

There was one realization amongst many standing out from my visit at PodPonics. As beautiful as a traditionally set farm is, as beautiful and serene can a perfectly acclimated shipping container be in its very own zen filled way, housing NFT systems filled with crisp green lettuce with skinny T5 bulbs illuminating a future of farming quite possibly.

A Beginning

The weather’s been good to us this week, yet again.  The land must’ve loved the warming sun enabling plenty of photosynthesis. Thankfully, the year’s mild Georgia Winter helped provide a more consistent vegetable supply to local stores as well as growers at farmers markets.

This past Monday on a misty foggy evening I paid the local new grocery store a visit, this time however, for different business than usual. Boxcar Grocer was throwing a big opening celebration & everyone from Food Artisans to Politicians seemed to be present. What a perfect way to start the internship & getting the word out about Real Time Farms. People were receptive, enthusiastic and grateful. I can’t help but notice the enthusiasm the local food movement is enjoying vibrating through the various fabrics of society. We all know as a collective there is a task at hand.

Finally on Friday afternoon I got the chance to interview South African native, local dietician & fellow food warrior Jess Avasthi. Both of us baby in tow, soaking up some sun on a bench in urban agriculture heaven called Truly Living Well Farm.

Jess whom I met one week prior at the annual Fruit Tree Sale put on by ALFI (Atlanta Local Food Initiative) found out about RTF via comfood, a listserve linking individuals together interested in community food security. She has a strong passion for good, delicious food that’s accessible. Other factors that compelled her to the internship include getting people to realize how to source the right foods and simply that everyone deserves good food.

[The reason food transparency is so important,] she continues, is next to food being a basic need, a form of medicine, & because we have to eat everyday it’s only fair that we know where it comes from, who makes a profit off of it.  “We’d like to think it to be fair, just and balanced” she says, a pause ensues “It’s a consumer’s right” she continues, both of us knowing that’s the goal of the sum of our herein efforts.

When quizzed about what her favorite food documentary is, food inc. may seem like a rather obvious choice but the movie’s relevance resonates in so many different ‘food documentaries’ today. Jess finds the bold, brave statement portrayed of the current food system a double edged sword. On one side we enjoy the fresh options that are created. On the other hand the documentary illuminates the strain that’s being put on the rest of the planet via big AG.

The East Atlanta Farmers Market, Sun in my Belly and the former Dynamic Dish are amongst her Atlanta favorite spots. As a new mom, however, you tend to focus more on immediate at home choices. I am curious to know how her food philosophy is reflected in her baby’s diet. She emphasizes next to making her own baby food from local organic produce that exposing him to the land is an experience she wants to pass on as it was part of her own upbringing. It’s no small feat to dream up a childhood with strong ties to the land in an urban setting. Places like Truly Living Well Farm make these dreams real & that’s only the beginning of what we can do.

As we are embarking on the journey as food warriors we agree on current urban agriculture needing more policy in place, positively impacting every grower. Jess illuminates the potential Atlanta/ Georgia has to become agricultural leader in the South East & a local food movement summed up in three words:  Blossoming – Essential – Accessible.