Urban Farmer Proves Social Entrepreneurship Can Thrive
Decrepit buildings with colorful paintings and art on their walls are situated next to blooming perennials and fluttering butterflies.
Plant beds line the sides of streets, and hoop houses contain freshly-grown organic peppers, tomatoes and eggplants that are sold to local restaurants.
You’ll see locals tending the soil, and chairs, tables and children’s toys in the space devoted to the community for farmers market days.
But most of all, you’ll see hope at the site of Urban Sprout Farms - a thriving, five-acre certified organic farm located in a low access community where fresh produce is scarce.
“This is the future,” says owner and social entrepreneur Nuri Icgoren. “What we need in our bodies is healthy food and community.”
“People thrive on the energy of others. Food is the essence of all of our livelihood,” he added.
A local urban farmer, husband and father who works full-time at Delta, Nuri did not grow up in agriculture.
But equipped with a degree in biology, he had an interest in real estate and a desire to feed himself and his family nutritious foods.
Planting A Seed, Growing An Idea
In 2012, Nuri and his brother decided to invest in a piece of blighted property at the end of a residential street in the Polar Rock neighborhood of Lakewood Heights.
The land is now home to a flourishing food operation where he is able to grow healthy food not only for his family, but also for his community.
Polar Rock is a predominantly black community three-and-a-half miles southeast of downtown Atlanta with about 1,000 residents, and where the only place to buy groceries is a corner store.
At Urban Sprout Farms, Nuri is able to provide his community with access to sustainably grown food as he works to build a healthy food system in Atlanta and to transform his neighborhood.
Currently, his farm produces a little more than 8,600 pounds of food on average per year, feeding approximately 160 families each month.
A sense of responsibility to the community and a belief in food equity is what drives Nuri, who also offers work-for-food programs at his farm.
“We need high-quality, intense food production in the city of Atlanta where people can come out, drive their cars and ride their bikes to a space like this,” says Nuri. “Where they can interact with the farmer, interact with small businesses and get access to the food.”
Youth are also able to come to the farm after school to volunteer and learn about the produce and how it’s grown.
“Our youth can see a young black man doing something they may not have expected, something that’s not in mainstream media,” Nuri says.
“It’s hard work and they can see that something can be started from nothing. You start with soil and you can grow a plant from a little seed, a speck.”
During the process of building the farm, Nuri has been able to engage youth, source skilled volunteers and laborers, understand city regulations and taxes, and to actually grow the food.
In the beginning, after purchasing the property, Nuri and his brother cleared the land and waded through the overgrowth to create their blank canvas.
They didn’t have adequate water supply or all the right equipment, and they experienced vandalism and theft because they had not engaged residents and the broader community.
However, they overcame discouragement from friends and family who could not see the vision, and little by little things started to happen.
Now, the community and members of the local food movement look to this place as an example, a slice of urban land abuzz with life, energy and community.
Today, Urban Sprout is grounded in engaging the community, farming in harmony with nature, reducing food waste to landfills and producing organic, nutrient-dense food so that people who need it most can also have the opportunity to eat healthy.
The farm employs bio-dynamic farming practices, meaning the farmers make their own compost adding beneficial herbs, flowers and fungi that help to remediate urban green waste.
From this compost, they also make their own soil amendments and liquid fertilizers.
The farm’s practices also involve growing vegetables from the seed and planting, cultivating and harvesting according to moon cycles and the conditions ideal for specific plant types.
Investing In The Future
Nuri’s overall vision is to create an urban agricultural hub that serves as an entrepreneurial incubator for food and farming enterprises on his farm.
With continued community support and investments, he plans to acquire additional production capability with more high-tunnels and a greenhouse, and to demolish the remains of the old motel.
Longer-term plans include building eco-friendly buildings to house living space, shops and a commercial kitchen.
Nuri is also working toward developing a commercial nursery to supply other growers and farmers with diverse plants to increase the biodiversity of Atlanta’s gardens and farms.
With the number of small producers, processors, distributors and even consumers growing in Atlanta, we have an opportunity to strengthen our city’s food system.
What this requires of our community is looking at how we source our food a little differently, not just for our own health but to create equitable access for the rest of our communities, like Polar Rock.
This is where we as eaters, as educators, as advocates of the local food movement play a huge role.
Food Well Alliance is working to connect urban farmers like Nuri with resources to build infrastructure for big visions of community-based food production.
Atlanta’s local government has a role to play too in working on policy that will support the unique needs of urban farmers.
Skilled volunteers can lend their time and talent to growing the food or growing the business.
Together we can improve our food system, provide equitable access to local food, and transform the health of our city.