Turning blight into crops in northwest Atlanta

S.E.E.D.S. Global wants to gut an eyesore apartment complex to create an urban agriculture and community hub

A few miles west of but still within view of Downtown’s skyscrapers, men and women loiter in parking lots of busted-up buildings and shuttered stores. Weeds grow in yards of abandoned homes. And a relic from The Hunger Games quietly hums in the leasing office of an apartment complex on Joseph E. Boone Boulevard.

Inside a walk-in closet, more than 150 hydroponic trays filled with tiny sprouts of basil, Swiss chard, and sage, among other herbs and greens, are perched on wooden shelves. The approximately $100,000 system was one of more than 35 leftover towers from The Hunger Games production. The movie crew contacted a local hydroponic store. It connected them with real estate investor and Miami native Alex Delgado and farmer Todd Mitchell, a Los Angeles native who’s worked on organic farms in Australia. Last September the two met and decided to start an urban farm. They gladly accepted the donated towers.

“I’d never done farming,” says Delgado, who owns several apartment complexes in the area, including a boarded-up, fenced-off eyesore next door that’s blocks away from the Atlanta Beltline’s northwest segment. “But I love food.”

For the last few months, Delgado, Mitchell, and the complex’s residents have been farming everything in this small room. Everyone has little tabs on their pots, including children, who have named their greens. It’s all part of S.E.E.D.S. Global’s effort to create nutritional resources in a food desert.

“We’re doing this because there’s a need,” Mitchell says. “We want to give access to and change this environment through healthy food.”

Creative Loafing will help facilitate the project with online fundraising as part of our ongoing Do Good campaign, a series of grassroots partnerships with local organizations. Do Good sponsor the Home Depot Foundation will match money raised by the nonprofit up to $2,500. The resulting $5,000 will enable S.E.E.D.S. Global to transform the abandoned complex Delgado owns into an urban agriculture hub.

The S.E.E.D.S. Global team plans to renovate the adjacent complex’s buildings to accommodate rooftop greenhouses. Delgado and Mitchell intend to gut the buildings’ interiors to create community spaces and, once solar power is added, install the donated hydroponic towers. An additional 20,000-square-foot greenhouse is proposed for the rear of the property. At least 10 upper-level former apartments facing the street would be converted into live-work units. A mural and terraces of community gardens would greet passersby. Shipping containers would be used as housing and as a security fence near the rear of the property, which backs up to active railroad tracks.

Mitchell and Delgado have already cleared out nearly a decade’s worth of trash. One rear building’s floor has been removed to make way for a future collection of tanks to house fish that would fertilize plants being grown with aquaponics. But it all starts with simple wood to build the racks for the greenhouses and materials to begin constructing a terrace for a community garden.

Once built out, the sustainable complex could grow as many as 5,400 plants every 30-45 days — and that’s just with the 35 hydroponics systems from The Hunger Games production. Residents would be able to keep what they grow. The team has big ideas for the future: Crops could be supplied to nearby restaurants. A community kitchen would teach people how to cook with fresh food rather than canned meat. Entrepreneurs could rent space. Children and nearby residents could gather in the courtyard for yoga classes or movie nights.

Long-term, S.E.E.D.S. Global sees the complex having a ripple effect on the surrounding area. Healthier diets might mean fewer visits by paramedics, which happen often, Delgado says. Children could be taught to nurture and care for a plant and how to cook healthy food. People could have a place to go.

“Success, in our opinion, is having youth and community participate,” Mitchell says. “To have them care and eat the food. It’s not how many heads of lettuce we can sell — it’s how many people we can help.”