Concrete meets Kale and a Marriage Blossoms

The skyline of down town Atlanta is flirting with radiant, blue skies and the breeze blowing is warmed by the sun. It’s January, but it appears that winter has taken a leave of absence. However, regardless of the season and its temperaments, this lot of land is always sunny and thriving.  What was a housing project in the historic Old Fourth Ward, once the stomping ground of Reverend Martin Luther King, is now row after row of endless possibilities, a testament of food justice, sustainability and shared abundance.

Food. We got to have it. It’s a matter of survival. But our survival goes beyond the mere act of eating. How our food is grown is a reflection of our ability to sustain the earth and her resources. What this Truly Living Well (TLW) Wheat Street Garden site reflects is that biodiversity can flourish in the heart of concrete, transforming urban-scapes to food-scapes. In the process, the integrity of nature’s relationship with food is upheld. This urban farm, one of several under the umbrella of TLW, produces its own compost from organic matter, practices companion planting, and has not encountered major pest infestations thanks to the meticulous and patient practices of its farmers. What you see is an ongoing celebration of the union between growing, living food and innate, unearthly concrete. The farm has consumed the blight of a deserted lot. Raised beds mingle with stretches of soil, both hosts to lush kale, cabbage, mustard, broccoli, and turnips, all kin to the winter climate of the Southeast, all certified natural grown. In addition to this, the naked muscadines are stretching their limbs, ready to sprout their shoots and delicious fruit. There are fruit trees and bushes, also waiting to see if this unseasonably warm weather will persist. In its summer prime, this farm is a food oasis, and if you seek an escape from the humdrum of city life, the towering sunflowers and fragrant roses will be happy to assist you.

In other words, this isn’t just a farm. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find Rashid Nuri, farmer and founder of Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture. He exudes passion for his work, his ethos being that everyone should eat well and be able to connect with the earth in which our food grows. Whenever I have had the opportunity to observe and converse with this man, I walk away knowing that the food I get from TLW has been cultivated by a man who truly loves what he does. It’s a very deep love, and this love becomes more obvious with each bite. My favorite, simply braising his greens with a little olive oil, some fresh ginger and garlic, and a splash of red wine vinegar at the end. My cooking skills are merely the frame for his art.

I met Rashid a couple of years ago. What I anticipated to be a short, introductory meeting turned into several hours of coffee and conversation on a chilly, grey winters’ day. He asked questions, all kinds, in an unimposing way that demanded honesty, depth and accessibility. His conversation is much like his food. Honest, deep, and accessible. He has got to know food production over 40 years, and he has got to know it in over 30 countries. He is a farmer of the world, but he can cultivate a couple of acres with as much joy as all the global land he has felt between his fingers.

Back to the art of his food…he asked a young farmer from California to join him in his efforts in down town Atlanta. Eugene Cook agreed. Atlanta has been blessed. Not only is Eugene the brainchild of Gebsite, and organization that propels sustainable food production connected to the earth’s magnetism and energy forces, but also he is an artist. His phrase “grow where you are” has become the cornerstone of TLW too. That’s what these two pioneer farmers want. They want you to grow where you live, to join them in growing, and they want you join the table where food is shared, celebrated and enjoyed. In the process, we learn to appreciate food as an art form that nourishes the body as well as the mind.  To me this is an easy sell. And I’m happy to sell this to others.

Jess Avasthi, Atlanta Winter 2012 Food Warrior, Keeping Food Real

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