Atlanta’s First Food Forest Aims To Increase Access To Fresh Produce

Stephannie Stokes / WABE

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The Lakewood neighborhood in southeast Atlanta fits most descriptions of a food desert. The closest grocery stores are two, three miles away.

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But now the residents there are getting a new place to find fresh produce: the city’s first official food forest.

On a recent afternoon, Atlanta’s urban agriculture director Mario Cambardella showed off the 7-acre greenspace off Browns Mill Road.

“As we’re walking through, I’ll point out a number of pecan and black walnut trees,” he said.

The property, while currently overgrown, already has a lot of food-producing trees, Cambardella said. That’s thanks to the family whose house once stood on the site.

And he said, to turn this into a food forest, the city’s just going to work with what’s here.

“So what it’s going to look like is a place that has tall trees, large shrubs, then some low brush area and maybe some ground crops,” he said.

It will be a hierarchy of food-producing plants, he said, with strawberries and nuts, all in a public park.

The hope is that the food forest will give surrounding residents more ways to access fruits and vegetables.

Cambardella said that’s either by allowing them to pick produce at the site or by teaching them how to grow it at their own homes.

“Learning here and taking it to their own home, that strengthens and makes a more resilient neighborhood,” he said.

The idea is not such a new one in this Atlanta community, where some properties look downright rural and several residents already grow their own food.

Still, Arthur Elder, who lives next door, said he’s looking forward to a new public space.

“It’s going to be a community thing. That’s what we need in the community, instead of more homes,” he said.

Cambardella said the city is working with nearby residents now to design the site.

The food forest off Browns Mill Road is a pilot project, supported by a U.S. Forest Service grant. Eventually, the city hopes to replicate the idea in other parts of Atlanta.