The heart of a bustling, urbanized city is not the first place most people would look to find a successful farm, producing food for year-round farmer’s markets and Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) programs. It is, however, the first place to look in Atlanta, Georgia. Rashid Nuri and partners of Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture, an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization, have cultivated thriving farms and gardens throughout the city, emulating nature to bring communities together over fresh, healthy food. Truly Living Well has established and runs 5 farms on 4 main sites, the largest and most prominent of which, Wheat Street Garden, is located in the historic Sweet Auburn District, in close proximity to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and other cultural landmarks. The historically African American area was home to the first faith-based low-income apartments in the United. The Wheat Street Garden has aided in transforming this area of urban blight into an urban oasis.
A child of the 60s, Rashid Nuri became involved in organic urban agriculture as a way to “feed and shelter the nation.” He started his first urban garden in 1969, but came to Atlanta in 2006 to start the Truly Living Well organization. Truly Living Well believes in the nourishment and sanctity of food grown free from synthetic pesticides, harmful fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It is clear that Rashid believes in the beauty of this natural process of growth, as he writes in one of his blogs, “each seed is coded with the requirements for a full, miraculous life. Just by being, each plant brings beauty, nourishment, fragrance, and opportunities for new seeds to become.” The organization aims to emulate nature in the way it grows food, and educate the public on how to follow suit.
Truly Living Well offers public classes, summer programs, and an extensive urban grower training program. The summer program, a place where “dirt rocks and compost cooks” is aimed at children, noting the documented importance of including children in the growth and preparation of food in solidifying healthy choices later in their lives. At the camp, children have the opportunity to connect with the land, become good environmental stewards, and experience the wonders of the garden, all while helping to cultivate and grow natural, healthy food. The urban growers training is a three stage, year long training process that includes technical and business skill development, followed by a year long mentoring program that provides networking opportunities and technical support for new growers. Payment for the program is on a sliding scale, as Truly Living Well believes that no person should be denied the right to access healthy food because of socioeconomic status.
The gardens at Truly Living Well are magnificent examples of successful urban agriculture. Enough natural, organic food is produced to sustain a yearly farmers’ market and CSA, all located on site. These markets and CSAs help to build community, a core value of Rashid Nuri and Truly Living Well as a whole. Rashid writes, “natural food grown close to home stays fresher, and retains more nutrients and life force. Local production provides employment and encourages greater entrepreneurship. Communities gather around food production, and become more cohesive, caring, and sharing.” For folks at Truly Living Well, natural and urban agriculture is about more than just growing food in unlikely places. It is about connecting people with the land and with each other, and the Wheat Street Garden and other Truly Living Well programs are exemplifying that principal.
The Truly Living Well gardens will continue to thrive, as a new urban agriculture policy, arguably the most progressive in the nation, was just passed in Atlanta that permits the growing of food anywhere in the city. Before this new zoning law, Truly Living Well was operating without a permit, having applied for one but experiencing difficulty with the city government, as it was unclear which zone the gardens were located in. But as Rashid has said, sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission, especially when the end results of your efforts are building and strengthening community. Now Truly Living Well can focus its energy on getting continual support, strengthening the community, and growing natural, nourishing food.
Rashid Nuri and colleagues at Truly Living Well continue to be inspiring partners to us at CFJC. The organization illustrates the connections between people and the environment, and what beautiful results can come of a truly community-driven program. As Rashid invites us all to ponder, “as you plant your open-pollinated heirloom seeds into the gently-turned, compost-enhanced earth, think of the gifts that have been planted in you. Think of the miracles that are coded into your life. What are you growing into?”
For more information, visit trulylivingwell.com