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In the state of Georgia, where one in eight people face hunger, one farmer has made it his mission not only to feed the hungry but to help them grow a bounty in their own backyard.
“My main goal is to make sure that marginalized and underserved communities have access to locally grown food that’s free of chemicals,” said Bobby Wilson, who operates the nonprofit Metro Atlanta Urban Farm.
“We have turned five acres of land right here in the heart of the city into a green oasis that really impacts the quality of life of people that live around 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, collard greens, squash, and eggplant.
“Not only can you learn from my 35 years of doing this type of work,” Wilson said, “but you can learn from our community gardeners who (are) growing food in a natural way.”
Wilson, the first college graduate in his family, worked with the University of Georgia for more than 20 years, bringing gardening education and programs to public housing complexes, schools and churches throughout metro Atlanta. Through his work, he saw a great need for fresh, healthy food in low-income urban communities.
When he retired in 2009, he used a portion of his retirement savings to purchase the farm and help fill the gap.
“I saw the need,” Wilson said. “Plus, when you retire, you should do something you really enjoy.”
He estimates with the rising price of food, people could save thousands yearly by growing their own fruits and vegetables. He also points out the health benefits that fresh produce brings.
“If we can eat better foods, stay away from the fast-food places, then any community can rid itself of the high blood pressure and diabetes that we are challenged with,” Wilson said.
Millions of households in the US are struggling to feed their families, with Black and Hispanic populations disproportionately impacted, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, data shows.
It’s an issue that especially motivates Wilson’s efforts.
“I’m trying to make sure that my people that live in 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 to feed more than 25,000 families who lived nearby, he said. He also assisted local farmers, many of them people of color, who were struggling to stay afloat.
“When small and disadvantaged farmers didn’t have the avenue to get rid of that produce because people were not coming out to buy, we had an opportunity to help keep them alive,” Wilson said. “We were buying food from African American farmers who did not have outlets and giving it away.”
Wilson continues to offer free food to those in need at a drive-through giveaway every week, where families can secure healthy produce. He also provides resources and information to help struggling farmers of color take advantage of opportunities that the government may provide.
“(I want) to make sure that everybody has a seat at the table and that 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 S.T.E.M. field trips. He works with farmers and gardeners of all ages and skill levels, from preschoolers to seniors, to provide education and access to affordable produce.
“We’re more than just a farm,” he said. “We’re 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 it today.”
Want to get involved? Check out the Metro Atlanta Urban Farm website and see how to help.
To donate to the Metro Atlanta Urban Farm via GoFundMe, click here