After a pecan farm in a south Atlanta neighborhood closed, the land was then supposed to be converted into a residential townhouse zone. That project, however, never happened, prompting the city’s Conservation Fund to buy the land in 2016 and develop it into something else: the country’s largest free food forest.
Thanks to a US Forest Service grant and a collaboration between the city’s municipality and a number of different NGOs, the 7.1 acres of land are now ripe with 2,500 pesticide-free edible and medicinal plants.
The food forest has been particularly welcome in the Browns Mill neighborhood where it’s located, with the closest grocery store there being a 30-min bus ride away. “Access to green space and healthy foods is very important. And that’s a part of our mission,” says Michael McCord, a certified arborist who helps manage the forest.
The project is part of the city of Atlanta’s broader goal to bring healthy food within half a mile of 85 percent of Atlanta’s 500,000 residents by 2022. Initiatives like the food forest are much needed in the city as 1 in 6 Georgians face food insecurity, 1 in 3 Brown Mill residents live below the poverty line, and 1 in 4 Atlantans live in acute food deserts.
There are more than 1,000 volunteers and neighbors working together with the parks department to water and maintain the forest. That work of maintaining the forest done by volunteers is a testament to the forest’s ability to build community, says Carla Smith, a local councilwoman who helped start the project.
“It’s really a park for everyone, says Smith. “Every time I go there’s a community there who respects and appreciates the fresh healthy foods. There’s a mentality there that people know to only take what they need.”