Creative Loafing: Now hiring: City Hall's urban agriculture director

While Atlanta farmers pick the last tomatoes of the year and coax collard and kale seedlings out of the earth, City Hall is looking for an urban agriculture director to help put more fresh healthy food on Atlantans' tables.

The city’s reason for the hire, a new City Hall position, is so that people can eat well. Applications for the job are due Sept. 15.

“The director of urban agriculture will work to improve the city’s health and wellness by eliminating food deserts and providing our residents with access to the healthy food options that they deserve,” Mayor Kasim Reed said in a statement announcing the job vacancy.

Neighborhoods where at least a third of low-income people live more than a mile from a grocery store — the USDA definition of a food desert — wind through west and south Atlanta.

The boss of an Atlanta nonprofit formed in partnership with the Atlanta Community Food Bank says the city’s attention to ag is important for a couple of reasons, including actual hunger.

“We cannot build a food bank large enough to address food security,” said Bobbi de Winter, executive director of the Food Well Alliance, which aims to tap Atlanta’s local food movement to help build a healthier city. 

Part of the way to make sure everyone has enough to eat is farming and gardening. It’s also a way to employ people, said de Winter. Atlanta chefs at high-dollar establishments ask local farmers for anything they can bring, she said.

Atlanta farmer Rashid Nuri, head of the growing and teaching nonprofit Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture, says he is glad to see the city picking up the banner of urban ag.

“Atlanta has one of the most progressive agriculture zoning ordinances in the country,” said Nuri. “We have a tremendous amount of growing going on. What we don’t have is the political support.” 

Would-be farmers start their careers with a few hurdles, like gaining access to a piece of land, then figuring out how to get permits and comply with city codes, and finding cash for water, electricity and tools.

But part of the new ag director’s job will be to help streamline that legal process, and generally to be a friend and partner to people and organizations that want to get growing.

Atlanta spread a little fertilizer around urban ag in 2014 when it passed an ordinance that cleared the way for urban farmers to be able to get small business loans, business licenses and lease agreements. And it's finally made progress on its demo urban farm across the street from City Hall. The city dragged its feet on awarding a $25,000 prize promised in 2012 for the best design proposal for the one-acre lot. Shortly after Creative Loafing wrote about the delay earlier this year, the city named a winner. We'll have more on that later.