This article appeared in the March 2019 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Young residents enjoy the natural play features of the Orchard at White Street Park.
n Georgia, agriculture isn’t limited to rural areas—several metro cities are introducing innovative ways for their residents and visitors to experience the benefits of gardening and food production within city limits. As defined by Greensgrow, urban farming is growing or producing food in a city or heavily populated town or municipality.
Matthew waters his raised bed in the Snellville Community Garden.
Leaders in the city of Suwanee have partnered with Harvest Farm, Georgia’s largest organic community garden, to develop the first public orchard and playground in the Southeast, the Orchard at White Street Park. This new amenity features a fully functional orchard that will be open to the community and provide families with a fun and engaging space that changes through the seasons, encourages creative and outdoor play and grows fresh fruit.
“The orchard was designed to incorporate fruiting plants, winding paths, lawns and natural play features. It is a unique and exceptional space for discovery and exploration and offers hands-on learning opportunities with a wide variety of fruiting plants,” said Harvest Farm Board Member and orchard landscape architect Roger Grant. “The park is maintained using organic pest control methods, meaning the fruit may not look like what we see at the grocery store, but patrons will get an authentic and safe experience.”
This orchard complements Suwanee’s existing community garden, which is also located at White Street Park.
A volunteer organization maintains the property, with plantings based on donations.
“We’re excited to keep building on the success and momentum of the garden by expanding into White Street Park with this orchard,” said Grant. “While the city has provided a solid foundation, the ultimate success of the orchard lies with our citizens—we need the community’s support in our effort to raise money to purchase orchard plantings.”
A group of high school students built the Orchard Weather Station in Suwanee.
One group of volunteers who’ve already invested in the orchard are students from the North Gwinnett High School Robotics Club. In October 2018, they unveiled a unique, custom weather station they developed especially for the Orchard at White Street Park. The weather station tracks temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction and precipitation. It also has the unique ability to combine data as it relates to growing fruits, including tracking “chill hours” through the dormant season (a statistic that determines how productive the crop will be) and providing frost and freeze warnings, which helps orchard managers plan for potentially damaging weather.
“One of my exceptional students, Savannah Hearn, attended the opening ceremony at the White Street Orchard. She met Roger Grant at that event and volunteered the Robotics Team to make the weather station,” said Marcus Losser, North Gwinnett High School teacher and Robotics Club mentor.
“The students learned advanced concepts through this project. I did not allow them to use cut-and-paste public software, so they learned device interface concepts at fundamental levels,” said Losser. “This project is ongoing, so it has and will continue to enrich the technical knowledge of the students. Projects of this nature are very valuable to students since they allow real world examples to grow from their classroom experience.”
This project was made possible by Kubota Tractor Corporation, who donated supplies.
Public/Private Partnership Makes Gardening Possible in Dunwoody
The city of Dunwoody supports urban agriculture by providing land and resources to encourage planting and pollinating.
The Dunwoody Community Garden and Orchard (DCGO) is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that pays no fees for access to two acres of Brook Run Park, the largest park in the region.
“We’re really fortunate to have such involvement with the city,” said Ann Bone, chair of the DCGO. “It’s what makes us successful.”
There are 92 plots that are four feet by eight feet, and each has its own water spigot. Members pay $60 a year for one. Keep DeKalb Beautiful supplies the compost and gardeners have access to supplies, including wheelbarrows, in two toolsheds built by Eagle Scouts.
The plots are surrounded by eight larger garden beds that grow food for Malachi’s Storehouse, an outreach ministry of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church that provides fresh produce to families in need.
“Just this week, our volunteers harvested and donated 38 pounds of broccoli, lettuces and cabbages,” Ford said. “That’s an impressive haul in the winter.”
Last year, DCGO donated more than 3,000 pounds of fresh produce to Malachi’s storehouse.
The DCGO orchard is a project of DeKalb Master Gardeners. It’s located near the garden plots and includes trees that grow apples, pears, blueberries and persimmons.
DCGO also uses two greenhouses in the city park to germinate seeds and hold a yearly plant sale to fund operations. The greenhouses were rehabilitated after being abandoned by the old school that was located in the area before Brook Run became a park.
The Dunwoody Nature Center promotes pollinators.
About four miles away at another city-owned park, Dunwoody Nature Center, leaders are promoting pollinators.
“We have three hives here, including an observation hive with a door system that lets you peek in and see the bees at work,” said Program Manager Holly Loveland.
The observation hive serves another important purpose. Beekeeper Tim Doherty uses the hive as a healing opportunity for veterans through a nonprofit he created called Doc’s Healing Hives. Children also benefit from the hives. The Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association holds a Junior Beekeeper program twice a year at the Dunwoody Nature Center.
“We use the hives in our summer camps, too,” Loveland added. “And during our Butterfly Festival, we sell honey from the hives and educate members and visitors about the importance of pollinators.”
Families Find Sanctuary in the Snellville Community Garden
Residents of all ages are finding entertainment and connections through gardening in Snellville.
“It’s something we do together,” said Susan Langley, a city resident who is often joined by her nine-year-old son South. “I want him to know where food comes from so he can make good choices.”
Susan and South grow a large variety of plants at the Community Garden, including black and white peanuts (also known as Negrito Manduvi and Spanish Pearl peanuts), black sesame seeds, Jerusalem artichokes and sweet potatoes.
“Gardening can offer children the opportunity to develop many important life skills and can have many positive effects on their bodies. They experience the satisfaction that comes from caring for something over time, while observing the cycle of plant life,” said Snellville Public Information Officer Brian Arrington. “Very importantly in this electronic age, gardening offers time for meaningful family connection, and the satisfaction a child gets from eating a perfect tomato that he grew himself is priceless.”