Southern city fighting food deserts with forest of free produce

Among the heavily trafficked streets of Atlanta, a massive urban food forest is growing to provide fresh produce for the public.

But what exactly is a food forest?

In the fight against food deserts — low income areas that lack access to fresh, whole foods — a food forest is a public space in the city where fresh produce will grow in trees, bushes, plants, and community garden beds for the community to enjoy.

And at 7.1 acres, the site in Atlanta will become the city’s first and the nation’s largest.

In the Lakewood-Browns Mill community, which will house the Urban Food Forest, more than a third of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the USDA, who has assisted in the project.

“Residents still talk about the land’s former owners, who left excess produce from their farm on fence posts for neighbors to claim and enjoy,” the USDA said. “Now this land will celebrate that history and make new memories for the community.”

A city ordinance passed in the beginning of the month grants money for the city to purchase the plot from the Conservation Fund, which currently owns and has helped develop the land.

In addition to community outreach and education, the forest is meant to make strides in the city’s goal of putting 85% of residents within a half mile of fresh food by 2021.

Numerous organizations and local government departments including Parks and Recreations, National Parks service, Trees Atlanta and Concrete Jungle are collaborating to develop, design and maintain the project.