The older man steps out of a gray Chrysler Grand Voyager. He wears a tan fisherman’s cap and a brown tee topped with a plaid workshirt. People chat as they fill baskets with carrots, chard, kale, collards, lettuce, onions, cabbage, and mustard. The man briskly moves from person to person, hearing the day’s news or making sure necessary tasks are completed. He stoops to take a quick check of the soil. Feels it run through his hands. Almost everything is planted in raised beds; concrete makes it impossible to plant directly into the ground.
Meet K. Rashid Nuri, one of the country’s foremost minds on urban farming. Former appointee to the United States Department of Agriculture, Nuri is a lover of jazz, expert on lunar cycles, and creator of the nonprofit Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture. His urban farms bring fresh food to areas of Atlanta where rubble, history, and poverty are cross-pollinated.
The sun beams down, making it hard to see Wheat Street Baptist and historic Ebenezer looming over this farm as weighty reminders of what once was. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife lie in eternal rest a few blocks east. Interstates 75 and 85 cross historic Auburn Avenue to the west. The Old Fourth Ward, the neighborhood that surrounds Nuri’s Wheat Street Garden farm, is rich in history but bereft of basic services. It is a food desert, designated by the USDA as an area with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly an area composed of predominantly low-income neighborhoods. The 700-plus-acre Old Fourth Ward district is bounded by Ponce de Leon and Decatur/DeKalb to the north and south and the Connector/Piedmont and the BeltLine to the west and east. More than half of the residents are low income. The only nearby places to shop are gas station convenience stores or small markets. Sure, just outside the O4W borders, there’s a Publix on Piedmont, a Kroger on Ponce de Leon, and the historic Sweet Auburn Curb Market on the other side of the Connector underpass. But because 75 percent of O4W residents do not own cars, those stores are not easily accessible. The nearby convenience stores carry Twinkies, Snickers, sodas, beer, and lottery tickets, but not much else. The Exxon station on Edgewood, the newest and nicest store around, has produce—if a handful of lemons, three black bananas, and two oranges can be called produce.