“East point is the first city in metro Atlanta to develop a city agriculture plan!”
Those words echoed through the room at the ArtsXchange in East Point as Kim Karris, executive director of Food Well Alliance, made the announcement.
More than 50 people gathered Wednesday to kick off phase one of the program.
“It hasn’t been done before,” Karris said. “But East Point was so innovative, so forward thinking about how growers, gardens, farms, fruit trees, composting and soil could play a role in the future of your city.”
It’ll be a yearlong process as Food Well and East Point officials work to get a tangible plan in place by next July. It starts with community engagement meetings, then working with the Atlanta Regional Commission to turn those meetings into an actual plan. The implementation of it all will be aided by an investment of up to $75,000.
One goal of the plan is to get the city to reimagine how it views greenspace and unused land. But the city of 35,000 residents didn’t just fall into this opportunity. Sissie Lang, who’s lived in East Point for 54 years and helps manage the farmer’s market, was one of two residents to write and nominate the city.
Lang said she started to notice how developers were gobbling up land in the metro region and didn’t want that to be the story for her community.
“My concern is that we save some of these spaces,” she said. “And that we use these spaces in a really smart way. If we’re going to build something, let’s make sure there’s green space adjunct to it.”
Another hope for the city’s plan is community building.
“We see our work as using local food as a tool to build community,” Will Sellers with Food Well Alliance said. “Thriving farms, urban farms and community gardens strengthen the heart of cities.”
That’s a sentiment shared by those in the community, such as Tenisio Seanima. He runs Nature’s Candy Farms but recently changed it to an orchard with a focus on stone fruits, such as peaches and nectarines.
Seanima said having more urban farms will allow people to have a deeper connection with their dinner plates.
“It allows them to just have a more authentic relationship with food,” Seanima said. “If you’re able to see the individual who grew it, you can really feel their personality and their principles and understand where they come from. It makes you also give that same level of value to the food.”
But he said growing more local food goes beyond nutrition and fewer pesticides. That’s one thing he hopes city officials notice.
“It will become a strong driver of other ancillary activities,” he said in talking about the benefits. “It becomes a crime reducer. It becomes a tool for anti-recidivism. It becomes a tool for community gathering.”
Food Access Solution
East Point Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham agreed, but said forming an agriculture plan could also be a solution to food access problems.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, large swaths of East Point are home to low-income residents with little access to grocery stores. That means residents live more than a half mile away from a store and many are witout access to a car.
Ingraham said they’ve been struggling to get grocery stores to come to town even though residents want one.
“The residents are asking us what are we doing and we’re like we’re trying,” Ingraham said. “We can run the list of grocery stores that our economic development department has reached out to. But our residents said okay, we’ll empower ourselves.”
But the plan is still about a year away from being implemented. Ingraham said she’s unsure if it’s a viable solution but if it’s the one for East Point, it’ll do.
“If a grocery store eventually comes here, it will be successful,” she said. “But until then, we’re not waiting to be saved. We’re saving ourselves."
She said it’s also on them to develop a plan that’s sustainable.
“I don’t want this to be a moment,” she said. “I want it to be a movement. I don’t want it just to be a project and we’re one and done. This should be catalytic to the system that we’re building to support this long term.”
Residents will spend the rest of the year, through focus groups and interviews, telling Food Well Alliance and their partners what they’re looking for.
If everything goes right and the plan is implemented next year, Ingraham said she believes the city could be a model for others in the metro-region and across the state.