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In the state of Georgia, where one in eight people face hunger, one farmer has made it his mission to not only feed the hungry, but also help them grow a bounty in their own backyard.
“My main goal is to make sure marginalized and underserved communities have access to locally grown, chemical-free food,” said Bobby Wilson, who operates the nonprofit Urban Farm Metro Atlanta.
“We’ve turned five acres of land right here in the heart of the city into a green oasis that really affects the quality of life for the people who live here.”
Since 2009, Wilson has taught thousands of people how to plant and grow their own vegetables and prepare meals with them, including onions, garlic, cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, squash and eggplant.
“Not only can you learn from my 35 years of doing this kind of work,” Wilson said, “but you can learn from gardeners in our community who (are) growing food naturally.”
Wilson, the first college graduate in his family, worked with the University of Georgia for more than 20 years, providing gardening education and programs to public housing complexes, schools and churches throughout metro Atlanta. Through her work, she saw a great need for fresh, healthy food in low-income urban communities.
When he retired in 2009, he used some of his retirement savings to buy the farm and help fill the gap.
“I saw the need,” Wilson said. “Besides, when you retire, you should be doing something you really enjoy.”
He estimates that with food prices rising, people could save thousands of years by growing their own fruit and vegetables. It also highlights the health benefits of fresh produce.
“If we can eat better food, get away from fast food places, then any community can get rid of the high blood pressure and diabetes that we have a challenge with,” Wilson said.
Millions of households in the United States are struggling to feed their families, with black and Hispanic populations disproportionately affected, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, data show.
It’s a theme that particularly motivates Wilson’s efforts.
“I’m trying to make sure that my people who live on and around these five acres, that we have access to locally grown food,” Wilson said. “I’m here to make a difference in their quality of life.”
During the pandemic, Wilson helped feed more than 25,000 families living nearby, she said. It also helped local farmers, many of them people of color, who were struggling to stay afloat.
“When small, underprivileged farmers didn’t have a way to get rid of these products because people weren’t coming to buy, we had an opportunity to help keep them alive,” Wilson said. “We were buying food from African-American farmers who didn’t have outlets and giving it away.”
Wilson continues to provide free food to those in need in a weekly raffle, where families can secure healthy items. It also provides resources and information to help struggling farmers of color take advantage of the opportunities the government can provide.
“(I want to) make sure everyone has a seat at the table and their voices count,” he said.
Over the years, Wilson says he has hosted more than 3,000 students in grades K-12 for farm tours and agricultural STEM field trips. It works with farmers and gardeners of all ages and skill levels, from children to seniors, to provide education and access to affordable produce.
“We are more than a farm,” he said. “We talk about justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, because at the end of the day, I want my grandchildren to have it better than what I have today.”
Do you want to get involved? Take a look the Metro Atlanta Urban Farm website and see how to help.
To donate to the Urban Farm of Metro Atlanta through GoFundMe, click here