According to Andrea Ness you need to be a little crazy to be a farmer, especially if your plan is to grow chard and tomatoes in urban Atlanta, Georgia. “A good kind of crazy,” she laughs. Andrea Ness and Andy Friedburg run Aluma Farms on a 3.8 acre piece of land in Atlanta, Georgia. It is situated on the Beltline, Atlanta’s newest and largest sustainable redevelopment project. The objective of the Beltline is to convert old railroad corridors that used to circle Atlanta into 22-miles of multi-use trails and parks. Three years ago, Andy and Andrea earned city approval to lease land on the Beltline at a fairly affordable rate of $12 a year or one dollar a month. The essentially free land along with the free water are crucial to the feasibility of this project; one of the greatest obstacles to most urban agriculture projects is the high price of city land.
The farm definitely draws in curious passersby. According to Andrea and Andy people will stop their cars in the middle of the street and get out to see what’s going on. For many locals the realization that there are kale and carrots growing in urban Atlanta is pretty remarkable. Some are so intrigued they return later to volunteer.
The produce from Aluma farms is sold through a weekly farm stand. They also have a small CSA (community supported agriculture where individuals can buy shares in a farm and regularly receive a selection of produce in return) and sell through restaurants. Andrea and Andy enjoy working with chefs who really care about local food and a few chefs even come out to the farm to get their hands dirty. But the vision for Aluma Farms is to focus more on the farm stand, ideally having it open for five days a week and carrying other products from local farmers such as eggs, meat, and dairy. Providing fresh produce in a food desert is a top priority for Andy and Andrea so they take EBT cards (Electronic Benefits Transfer, a card used to issue food stamp benefits) thanks to an organization called Wholesome Wave which sets up EBT card purchasing at markets and doubles the purchasers value. This means that if a person buys $20 worth of produce they only pay $10 and Wholesome Wave reimburses the farmers the rest. Small farms have to charge more because of their limited quantity of product and Wholesome Wave allows them to do that while also making the food more accessible to consumers.
There are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of urban agriculture in the capital of the Peach State. There is a new Atlanta Farmers Alliance of almost 50 farmers which grew out of a need for a more unified voice in order to direct private funding to urban agriculture projects more effectively. There is a recently appointed director of urban agriculture in Atlanta and the city has also identified vacant plots which have the potential to be used for urban agriculture. But Andy and Andrea wonder whether institutions can provide enough support to make locally grown food accessible to everyone. For example, the city could require Atlanta public schools to purchase food from farmers or develop other such policies that will both support farmers and a population which might not have access to fresh produce.
Andrea and Andy are attracted to farming because they want to be outside, run their own business, and grow their own food. But that doesn’t mean urban agriculture is by any means an easy occupation. Tending to crops is a relentless responsibility and at the end of the day many farmers don’t even make minimum wage. But these two energetic farmers are fueled by their belief in the extraordinary value of feeding urban populations fresh produce. So yes, you might say they’re a good kind of crazy.