Atlanta Harvest hopes to create farms inside the perimeter

Looking to raise $12,000 by Feb. 14

Courtesy of Corbin Klett

Created by Georgia Tech alumnus Corbin Klett and Emory University alumnus Bethaney Herrington, Atlanta Harvest is an organization focused on increasing consumer access to local, organic produce in the metro Atlanta area. To support local agriculture and economy, they are raising money to build farms in impoverished neighborhoods inside the perimeter.

Atlanta Harvest is holding a crowd-sourced fundraiser and as of this writing is short $5,000 of its goal. We spoke with Herrington to learn more about Atlanta Harvest, the farms, and her vision for Atlanta’s agricultural industry.

Where did the inspiration to build farms inside the perimeter come from? When Grace Midtown [Church] moved to English Avenue, Corbin and I both got involved in the neighborhood in a variety of ways. Eventually he stumbled upon an old fish farm in the community and got excited at the prospect of growing fish and employing residents to maintain that farm. In pursuing this aquaponics project, he was connected to a man who has done fish farming and economic development work all over the world for 30 years. This man then connected Corbin to the horticultural expert who created our high tunnel hoop house growing method.

While Corbin was learning about aquaponics and economic development, I was practicing community building work through my job. And with a background in farming with my family, urban agriculture has always been an interest of mine.

For years, Corbin and I both have been interested in finding sustainable solutions to problems facing families and individuals from low-income communities. We both believe strongly in the value of family and dignifying work. We also believe in bringing farms back and in seeing the local food economy boosted and supported. Georgia farmers can and should be resourced to sell their food close to home and make a living wage. This requires infrastructure and innovation, which is something that Atlanta Harvest is bringing to the table. So, we have huge goals.

How will the farms work? They will be high-tunnel hoop houses, which are similar to greenhouses except that they are passively heated and cooled as opposed to having a heater or being constructed to contain heat. The produce will be grown in raised beds with imported soil so it’s not in the ground. In the city, people have lots of concerns about growing on concrete or contaminated soil, but we don’t have to deal with that because our soil is imported in raised beds. We will primarily grow greens such as lettuces, kale, arugula, mustards, and collards. They’re easier, faster, and that’s what the market demands.

Who will maintain and operate the farm? Initially, I will be the first farm manager. It will be Corbin, our sales person, and me for a while because each farm only requires three people to work it. We are hoping to partner with local organizations that are working with individuals transitioning out of homelessness, substance abuse, and the sex industry, and finding those individuals who are passionate about this field.

This isn’t community gardening. It’s farming. So, a person with no experience can come and train for a few weeks. If they’re diligent, they can pick up everything needed to run the farm.

In your promotional video, you describe food hubs that connect the producer and the consumer. What are these food hubs?
A food hub is primarily responsible for aggregation, distribution, and marketing. For the most part, farms and farmers don’t have time to adequately sell their produce, and the infrastructure doesn’t exist for medium to large-sized farms to transport food within the city. We will be responsible for collecting the food and then washing, packaging, processing, and selling it. This is what makes the process truly local. Lettuce grown in Midtown and consumed in Midtown is way different than lettuce from Athens, South Carolina, South Florida, and beyond. Our goal is to have local produce consumed ten minutes away from where it’s grown.

Where will the first farm be located? We’re looking at lots of different neighborhoods throughout northwest, southwest, and now southeast Atlanta. We’ve been looking at historic south Atlanta, English Avenue, Adair Park, but we haven’t settled into one yet. They’re all relatively distressed, low-income neighborhoods.

Will these farms be completely organic? Yes, everything is organic. There will be no synthetic or chemical inputs, and we have to go through a process with the USDA to have our farm certified as organic, which normally takes two to three months. Initially, things will likely be naturally grown, but we are looking to start our organic certification process as soon as possible.

Where will the produce be sold? We hope to sell to high-end restaurants and premium groceries primarily, but we are doing research to break into secondary markets like house centers, hospitals, and universities.