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http://waltontribune.com/story.lasso?ewcd=58920778473b00f6

Urban farming gaining popularity



Published April 18, 2010

Combine the growing obesity problem in the world with the financial woes families are experiencing right now and it’s not surprising urban and suburban farming has become a growing trend.

For many years, urbanization had the affect of shrinking the country’s farmland. Areas like Walton and Gwinnett counties saw many old farms sold off for the booming suburban development experienced during the last 20 years.

But the recent economic slowdown has halted much of the development. In addition, finding ways to make ends meet has had people searching for ways to deal with either a loss or significant reduction in disposable income. Farmers markets and micro-gardening have, in some instances, been the answer to many people’s prayers. Herbal gardens, upside down planters and sales of garden and seed products have risen substantially — some areas of the country even reporting an increase of 300 to 500 percent for plants and seeds, according to a recent article in The National Gardener. First Lady Michelle Obama has put the spotlight on the problem of obesity in the country since her husband became president. She went so far as to plant a vegetable garden in the White House to highlight the nutritional benefits of fresh produce to a healthy populations.

Officials at the Upper Ocmulgee Resource Conservation and Development Council have honed in on this trend and found ways to cultivate it for the good of local communities.

A recent $99,000 grant obtained by the agency is being used in several unique ways — one being the education of local farmers by having educational field days such as the one to be held Thursday at Dillwood Farms in Loganville.

“Since the down-turn in the economy, many citizens have taken an interest in establishing their own gardens, farms, etc.,” said Julius George, district conservationist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “With this field day we want to educate interested participants of the proper way to establish their farms/gardens and the importance of conserving our natural resources in the process.”

George said the exercise is also designed to promote the small farms that exist in the area and to help them market the array of fresh fruits and vegetables that many people desire.

Education and

networking among local farmers

Field days such as the one to be held at Dillwood Farms are given at no cost to the farmer and the topics covering include many aspects of the farming itself as well as ways to market the produce. The training session includes topics related to organic farming, greenhouse management and farm equipment safety, raised-bed vegetable production, high-tunnel houses, micro irrigation, fruit production and insect and wildlife control.

Dillwood Farms involvement in the program came at the request of farm owner Doug Dillard, who offered his farm as an educational venue with hopes of using the opportunity to get exposure for his farm as well as learning in the process.

“I hope to learn as much as possible from their expertise,” Dillard said, clarifying that Dillwood Farms is not a community farm, which is a different concept for urban farming, but is a farm that provides food for the community.

Dillwood is also participating in another USDA project which is funded by a separate grant — the high tunnel pilot study. This study, under the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Services, is part of the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative to establish high tunnels to increase the availability of locally grown produce in a conservation-friendly way. The three-year study is being conducted to see if high tunnels — also known as hoop houses — are effective in reducing pesticide use, keeping vital nutrients in the soil, extending the growing season and increasing yields. Dillard, who already sells almost everything produced by Dillwood Farms to restaurants in the Atlanta area, is hoping participation in these programs will improve the quality and quantity of the crops as well as expand available markets.

“It is expected that these hoop tunnels will extend the growing season by about 20 percent,” Dillard said. “If the other parts of this program are successful, I will need to expand my production to keep up.”

Expanded markets through the Georgia Electronic Benefit Farmers Markets

Another part of the grant is being used to help expand the markets for local farms, not only by increasing awareness of their existence within local communities, but also by providing greater access to the products for people who didn’t have as many opportunities in the past. One of the ways this is being done is through the Georgia Electronic Benefit Transfer Farmers Market program, which is designed to allow local farmer’s markets to offer their fresh produce to recipients of the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program. Some of the grant money has already been used to purchase wireless EBT equipment to process EBT or SNAP equipment at local farmers markets. Cindy Burtt, of Monroe Locally Grown, said the Midland Avenue Produce Jam in downtown Monroe is one already approved for the equipment.

“The program goal is to install 16 new EBT terminals at community farmer’s markets, said Willie Torrey, project manager for the state RC&D Council for the Upper Ocmulgee River District and the Georgia EBT Farmer’s Market Program. “It then enables SNAP recipients and people using EBT debit cards to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables from local farmer’s markets.”

Torrey said recent studies have found a large number of child and adult obesity cases come from low-income communities where there are urban “food deserts,” where fresh fruits and vegetables are not readily available. Torrey said these new programs are a win/win for everybody concerned. Local farmers and market gardeners will benefit from the training and increase in customer base. In addition, it will enhance the local economy while providing healthy and available food within the community.

Home and

community gardens in urban areas

With the economy still struggling and the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables sometimes out of reach for some, many people have taken to growing their own crops — either in their own yards, on porches, in upside down growers or even in community gardens.

“We sell 4-by-16 foot raised beds made from untreated cedar, filled with our secret soil, and I’ve been told people have managed to get between $400 or $500 worth of fresh produce in a season,” Dillard said.

In 2009, Gwinnett County’s Department of Water Resources provided the space for a community garden for people in the county who didn’t have the room to grow their own crops at their place of residence. The project with hugely successful with all 40 spaces taken almost immediately the word got out.

Volunteers from the Gwinnett Cooperative Extension Service’s Master Gardener program assisted local residents and provided expertise through the growing season. Participants were also encouraged to participate in the Plant a Row for the Hungry program to cultivate part of their crop for local food banks to supply healthy food to the needy.

George said the objectives of the USDA’s programs are clear.

“We want to inform the public of agencies which provide financial and technical assistance through various programs by introducing marketing strategies, recognizing local farms like Dillwood Farms, promoting the benefits of purchasing from local farmers and encouraging the implementation of farm conservation practices,” he said, adding it also gives the public the opportunity to see crops being cultivated. “Since the down-turn in the economy, many citizens have taken an interest in establishing their own gardens, farms, etc. With field days like the one Thursday, participants get the opportunity to learn the proper way to establish their farms or gardens and the importance of conserving our natural resources in the process. Last but not least we want to support and promote many small farms that exist here in the area. These little known businesses offer an array of fresh fruits and vegetables that many people so desire.”

Local farmers wishing to participate in the free field day at Dillwood Farms can register by e-mailing Jerome.brown(at)ga.usda.gov or by calling 770-339-6071 by Monday.

For more information about the programs available to local farmers or farmer’s markets, visit www.ga.nrcs.usda.gov.

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Dr. Teri Hamlin
North Region Agriculture Education
Georgia Department of Education
204C Four Towers University of Georgia
Athens, Ga 30602
706-542-3679 / 706-540-0032
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