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Plowing New Ground

Decatur City Commission favors urban market garden on two-acre tract at United Methodist Children's Home.

If an $80,000 grant comes through, refugees and low-income residents in the Decatur area will have a chance to grow and sell fresh produce from a garden that would be created on 2 acres of pastureland just outside the city limits.

Decatur City Commission members Tuesday night enthusiastically approved an application for the grant. The project seemed made in heaven for the green-thinking Decatur officials.

 “It must be right because too many things have happened in a very short time frame,” City Manager Peggy Merriss said. “It must be some kind of karma.”

The city commission encourages community gardens. That's part of the city's strategic plan.

But officials have spent two years seeking a plot big enough for this kind of garden – one that would allow disadvantaged people to grow food for themselves or to sell food for profit.

The $80,000 grant popped up just a few weeks ago, and the city pounced on the chance to apply for it. With a small window of opportunity, the  the children's home approved the lease Aug. 29.

The big question mark is where money will come from in the future, since the grant is only for one year, said David Junger, assistant city manager for public works.

He said funding for the first year breaks down like this:

  • $80,000 from a grant to develop urban market gardens, administered by DeKalb County.
  • $8,700 from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services. 
  • $32,900 from Decatur.
  • $7,800 from Decatur in in-kind services, such as equipment and labor to set up the garden.

Success will depend on cooperation among several agencies and nonprofits.

, located just outside the city limits, would let the City of Decatur use 2 acres of land no cost. A mix of DeKalb residents, with a priority on low-income people and refugees, will tend the plot and profit from sales of the produce. The Global Growers Network, a nonprofit that helps refugee farmers and an offshoot of RFS, would oversee the garden and help market the crop.

would use the garden to educate youth. Decatur would chip in money and serve as the home agency for the entire project. And somebody – nobody knows who yet -- would be able to purchase fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Junger said the city decided to bring refugees into the project after seeing how displaced farmers from Burundi, a strife-ridden nation in Africa, created a thriving vegetable garden on an old school playground near the Avondale Marta station.

“We were impressed with what they were able to do on an old playground,” he told the commission. “If they can do it there, certainly they can do it on an open pasture.”

Susan Pavlin of Refugee Family Services assisted the Burundi refugees in starting the garden. In an email to Patch, she said RFS would recruit new refugee residents of DeKalb to work the 2-acre tract "because so many were farmers in their home country and have both expertise and the desire to farm that they can offer the local community."

If the grant comes through quickly, she said, ground could be broken in the spring and crops could be harvested next summer.

Global Growers Network, an offshoot of RFS, could provide marketing expertise, she said. The GGN website said it creates new agricultural opportunities in Georgia for international farmers who flee their homelands because of war, genocide and persecution.

Pavlin said she hopes the garden will create revenue of about $15,000 the first year and $25,000 the second. Not all the property will be developed right away, she said.

In a memo to the commission, Junger articulated the long-term rationalte of the urban market garden.

"The project has all the necessary components to be successful on many different levels," he wrote. "Being able to supprot the city's stratetic plan goals and objectives as well as being able to address local food security issues and combat the childhood obesity epidemic are just a start. There will also be employment and income opportunities for families resettled to the United States. Fresh locally sourced food will be available to our restaurants and institutions. Overall, this will significantly contribute to the public health and well-being of the city."

Until the 1960s, the United Methodist Children’s Home was a working farm. Mayor Bill Floyd said he liked the idea of returning the land back to its earlier purpose -- coming full circle, in a way.

“This has the chance to be something special in the long run,” he said.

Barbara Baggerman September 19, 2011 at 07:09 PM
I read this article because I was curious to know where the patch of land is. Unfortunately, the article omits this critical piece of information, other than to say it's just outside the city limits. But where? Please don't assume your readers know what you're talking about. Please provide the facts.
Nicki Salcedo September 19, 2011 at 07:18 PM
The article specifies, "The United Methodist Children’s Home, located just outside the city limits" with a link to a full page with details including address and website. United Methodist Children's Home, 500 S Columbia Dr, Decatur, GA 30030. 404-327-5820. www.​umchildrenshome.​org/

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