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Beltline's Adair Park urban farm starts to blossom

Former bus-repair facility in southwest Atlanta could add to area's growing agriculture community

On a four-acre plot of land in Adair Park, seeds are sprouting from dirt. Once a contaminated lot where buses were repaired, the land along the Atlanta Beltline's Westside Trail is becoming an urban farm. After undergoing an EPA cleanup and a crowd-sourced funding campaign, the farm now yields produce that is sold to local restaurants.

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The current harvest includes microgreens, like buckwheat and arugula, and sunn hemp, a legume. The site is one of several that Atlanta Beltline Inc. plans to build around the project's 22-mile loop.

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"These farms ... can really raise up the whole area because they give people a place to go, and food where there may not be," Susan Varlamoff, of the University of Georgia's College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and a lead partner in the initiative, says. "It provides exercise, it's a safe place to be, and it creates a sense of pride for people."

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The farm's success can largely be attributed to Andy Friedburg and Andrea Ness, the two farmers who were selected by Atlanta Beltline, Inc. to farm its property located at at Allene Avenue and Catherine Street toward the end of last year. Ness says the two were drawn to the site in part because they would not just learn "how to make good food, but how to take damaged land and make it into clean soil" — a critical component of urban farming.

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Remediation of the site began years ago, but even afterward the plot sat as a dump. One recent Earth Day cleanup effort included more than 300 volunteers collectively throwing out 400 tires. Shortly thereafter rain gardens, bioswales, and a drainage system were installed.

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"The soil isn't very fertile to say the least," Friedburg says, explaining the total lack of topsoil needed for fruitful farming. "We're in the process of trying to get the land healthy again so it can be fertile and we can grow nutritious plants."

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This year the team focused on planting cover crops to spur organic matter which, they hope, will enrich the soil. A new batch of winter-hardy cover crops will be planted in the next few weeks, and come spring the pair plan to plant more nutritious produce.

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Still, Varlamoff says, the transformation is an "an extraordinary urban miracle."

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Next year the farmers expect to have a greenhouse on the property. More equipment is needed — a tractor, for example — but Ness and Friedburg are funding such needs on an ongoing basis. They initially conducted a Kickstarter campaign, raising $6,000 to start the project, and continue to supplement funds with revenue from a separate farm they operate in Stone Mountain.

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Beltline officials have said they envision farms along the corridor but say the current focus is on the success of the Adair Park pilot farm. Before Beltline officials decide which farm comes next, they want to see what the Adair Park farm will achieve and how it will affect nearby communities. Friedburg and Ness are under a five-year contract to oversee the farm. Both parties say they are open to extending the agreement.

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The Westside Trail, once built, could bring more business to the Adair Park farm and connect more nearby communities with fresh, healthy food. It would also join a growing network of farms in southwest Atlanta working with neighborhoods. Patchwork City Farms and Good Shepherd Agro Ecology Center, along with several neighborhood fresh markets, are working to increase local access to fresh, healthy foods in neighborhoods that are often called food deserts.

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These urban farms play a large role in the city's food network, says John Skach, a senior associate at Perkins+Will Global who is conducting research on the Beltline's urban agriculture initiatives. Most of the full-service grocery stores are in the northeast part of the city, he says. Yet many urban farms and community gardens are located in southwest Atlanta. Underserved areas have smaller garden initiatives, he says. These initiatives are important to the communities in which they're located — and could help provide food to other parts of Atlanta.

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"The Beltline itself — because it has transportation and open space and development — it's like a city within a city," Skach says. "What if you take a new industry like urban agriculture and overlap it with that — what do you get?" He also emphasized the vast possibilities when produce could be sold to institutions nearby like the Georgia World Congress Center, hotels, and hospitals. "It has a lot of implications."



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