Dear Mayor Reed,
The question is, “How do you turn assets and resources within low-income, food desert communities that have been neglected, underutilized, abandoned, forgotten and unproductive into economic drivers, civic engagement facilitators, health and wellness mediators, environmental education sites, production and distribution hubs, workforce development centers and small business incubators?” Two words: Urban Agritourism.
A year ago today, Gilda Watters and Fred Huff, introduced me to Georgia’s State Urban Agritourism Program – the combination of urban agriculture and tourism. By locking into the potential powers of this industry, we have successfully created a national training model called Atwood Community Gardens & Urban Farm. When you marry a youth development and social entrepreneur program like the NEXT Steps Youth Entrepreneur Program with a key proponent that celebrate the novelty of unique small business products and services like the SWOOM Atlanta Market Project, you create growth and development opportunities for entrepreneurs to explore new career pathways in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (S.T.E.M.) while helping our broken villages become healthier, wiser, stronger and more self-sufficient.
Over 100 students from Brown Middle School visit Atwood Community Gardens & Urban Farm for the first time to participate in the Mayor’s National Food Day launch event.
Let’s look at what we know. During your visit at Atwood, I want you to look at our neighbor’s backyard. You will see a picture of overgrown weeds, poison ivy, and kudzu. This represents what Atwood looked like just 18 months ago — a scenery of beautiful potential and chaos that needed a vision and a plan. When we applied our signature organizational model called the Community Involvement Growth Strategy (CIGS for short) to this 3.5 acre abandoned outdoor property dead smack in the middle of the “hood”, it transformed Atwood into:
- a youth and volunteer driven education facility
- a hub for community outreach and donation distributions
A group of seniors pose with Mayor Reed during their first visit to Atwood Community Gardens & Urban Farm
- a farmer’s market and outdoor cafe
- a petting farm and livestock management training nook
- a haven for environmental exploration for all ages
- a family picnic area and local social scene
- a small business incubator
- a training site for beginning farmers and gardeners
- an outdoor event facility
- a designated walking trails site
- an outdoor classroom
- a beautiful place to relax, meet new friends and find comfort in a natural environment
Thanks to our new market research partners with Deloitte Consulting, we are currently creating a platform to roll out the Atwood Community Gardens & Urban Farm model on a national level. This includes pilot implementations at sites in Detroit, Houston, and South Carolina that are owned by the current landowner of Atwood: The Pan African Orthodox Christian Church (i.e. Shrine of the Black Madonna).
Guests enjoy our new S.T.E.M. Outdoor Amphitheater recently built by General Electric engineers and volunteers on Hands On Atlanta Day (Oct 6, 2012).
So thank you Mayor Reed, Commissioner Andrea Boone and Vanessa Manley for the honor and acknowledgement. Your presence matters and makes us relevant to the ever evolving trends in awareness, advocacy and action in Atlanta’s current urban agriculture movement.
And to my circle of supporters — your unyielding love, networking, hard work, and common desire to see Atwood succeed — big hugs go to Baba “Yoga” Bey of the National Black Men’s Health Network and Chairman of The NEXT Steps Youth Entrepreneur Program). Without him, none of this would be possible. Elder Tacuma Brown, Toni Abasi Hill, and Sudiata Lane from the Shrine, Ms. Debra Robinson of the SWOOM Atlanta Project, our Chef-Growers and Atwood Urban Farm Business Incubator Members: 4 Tha Sol! Caterers, Byrd Food Vegan Eats & Sweet Treats, Odom’s Produce, Living Healthy, Happy & Green, Patchworks City Farmers, Haylene the Garden Queen of the West End Urban Nursery, Sister DeBorah Williams of Mother Clyde Community Garden; my mentors John & Pat Perdew from the Westview Community; Darryl Haddock of the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance; Mr. Marlon Pilson and Lamar Young of the Grady High School Business & Entrepreneur Academy; Hands On Atlanta, United Way Gifts In Kind, Lowe’s Heroes, General Electric Volunteers, The Atlanta Community Food Bank, the Atlanta Community Toolbank, Outdoor Nation Atlanta Campus Club, Judy Raines of the Harland Boys & Girls Club, and last but certainly not least — our local living legend and pioneer of holistic living in the West End Mr. Wanzu of Life Essentials.
Thanks again for all your help! The financial pledge you made to help us further develop our urban agritourism program will be put to good use. I look forward to a most productive and enriching partnership with your office and team.
NEXT Steps received National Food Day Proclamation from Mayor Reed. Pictured (left to right): Michael Pickens (long time Atwood volunteer and Beecher-Donnelly resident), Minister Toni Abasi Hill (Feed My Sheep Ministry), Mayor Kasim Reed, Elder Jerry Tacuma Brown (Shrine of the Black Madonna), Dana Jewel Harris (Exec Director, NEXT Steps Youth Entrepreneur Program), Nia Knowles (NPU-T Chair), Byron Amos (Vice Chair Board of Education) and Marshall Thomas (Cleta Winslow’s City Council Office); Photo Credit: Gilbert “Jabari” Henry 404.664.3059