Atlanta’s urban agriculture movement is fortunate to have no shortage of charismatic and passionate people who can, and will, expound at length about their love of land and soil, fresh produce, food security and growing community.

When Carol Hunter is having a rough day at work, she thinks of the mothers and children who are nourished physically and mentally while learning how to grow food at an urban garden on Lawton Street in southwest Atlanta. That image and their smiles keep her going.

When Ras Kofi Kwayana touches the earth, as he teaches urban farming in the city, he feels the therapeutic effect of working in the soil and growing food – and he observes the transformation in his students. When Patience Allen-Glick has trouble going to sleep at night, she closes her eyes and mentally walks around the garden on land next to the Wheat Street Baptist Church in the Old Fourth Ward, where she worked years ago; she still remembers the smell of the flowers and herbs and the sense of community.

Through their work with a nonprofit organization named Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture (TLW), these individuals and many more are helping create oases in Atlanta’s food deserts: areas where the lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets and healthy food providers results in residents having to rely on convenience stores to purchase the only products available: processed and sugar-laden foods that contribute to the nation’s obesity epidemic.

TLW was established a dozen years ago by Rashid Nuri, whose four decades of global food growing experience have made him the “face” of Atlanta’s urban farming movement: growing food as a business and not just for personal use. Rashid’s vision was to find a sustainable solution to help people live better; he realized that growing affordable food could be the platform for other important lessons in health and wellness, literacy, personal finance and family relationships.

“Rashid and TLW put Atlanta on the national map for urban agriculture. Locally, its impressive footprint allowed us to generate excitement with city leaders to pass an urban agriculture ordinance and hire an urban agriculture director for Atlanta,” says Alice Rolls, director of Georgia Organics, a nonprofit organization that connects organic food from Georgia farms to Georgia families.

Carol Hunter, CEO of Truly Living Well (Photo by Caleb Jones)

An inspirational leader, Rashid has been responsible for much of the growth and success of the movement in the city, in addition to developing new leaders, like Carol Hunter. This past August, the same month that Rashid celebrated his 70th birthday, he passed the torch to Carol, now the organization’s CEO, and moved to a new role as Elder and Advisor to the local food movement.

Raised in North Carolina, Carol moved to Atlanta in the early 2000s to work in the broadcasting industry. She says that she has always worked with nonprofits because her family brought her up to serve others. When a friend introduced her to Rashid, she found a new calling and seven years ago became TLW’s Chief Administrative Officer; she jokes that her job was to handle the “Farm to Paperwork” aspects of the business. Patience Allen-Glick, who worked for TLW for several years about the time that Carol arrived, adds that she is “a wonderful people person who excels at engaging the community and volunteers.”

Fundraising for the organization, whose budget is about $1 million annually, will be one of Carol’s biggest challenges, she says, although TLW raises a fourth of its revenue from the sale of its produce (more than 30,000 pounds per year) at several local markets every week. She plans to also work on ways to position the organization to continue to be a leader in the movement, while supporting small urban farmers and community farming groups.

TLW’s programs are impressive – from an intensive Urban Grower Boot Camp (grow food and build a business), Traditional Summer Camp (garden education, nutrition and STEAM) and Gardening 101 (for the casual gardener) to Growing Families: the program that makes Carol particularly happy. Over twelve weeks, single mothers and children who are living at or below the poverty level learn about urban farming, job readiness, entrepreneurial skills and financial literacy, while making new friends.

In 2016, TLW purchased eight acres of open space from the Atlanta Housing Authority and moved its operation (trees, produce, dirt and materials) from the Wheat Street Garden to Collegetown in southwest Atlanta. Every Friday afternoon, The Market at Collegetown Farm features organic produce, fresh flowers, local vendors, chef demos, health screenings and music.

TLW’s Farm Manager, Kofi Kwayana told me, “There is no culture without agriculture. Its impact on our society is profound.” In Atlanta, the urban farming movement is as healthy as the food it grows and becoming more sustainable every day.

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Sally Bethea is the retired executive director of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and current board president of Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy whose mission is to build a community of support for the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. Her Above the Waterline column recently won first place for opinion writing at the Georgia Press Association Awards. 

Sally Bethea

Sally Bethea is the retired executive director of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and an environmental and sustainability advocate. Her award-winning Above the Waterline column appears monthly in Atlanta Intown.