Meet Joe. He is young, hip and kind. Slim and tall, wearing what appears to be faded, rolled up skinny jeans and a snugly fit retro graphic t-shirt, he has all the makings of a face you would bump into at the Variety Playhouse, home to many indie gigs that pass through the city. You’d wonder if he is one of the musicians or a fan of the band about to appear on stage. But there are some details to his persona that one would miss in the dim light of the Variety. His jeans are mudded on the sides, his t-shirt graphic is a bunch of carrots and his finger nails and hands are well acquainted with the earth. When he pulls out his phone, you see more dirt happily residing on his key pad. A moment of silence enters our conversation, but he doesn’t display discomfort, instead he enjoys it, taking in his surroundings. Ah yes, we have the tell-tale makings of a farmer, the kind we keep hearing about these days. Young folks who venture onto land to seek a truth we have lost to the making of our food. And yes, he may very well go to the Variety to catch his favorite bands…a subject we never got around to, but in my mind, this friendly, bearded face I am conversing with is a poster child of of the food movement and reform Atlanta is birthing.
Joe Reynolds is growing food for Atlantans. He has a lovely lady in his life, Judith Winfrey, who is very active in the food scene of Atlanta. From Georgia Organics to Slow Food Atlanta, Judith takes on roles of leadership that enable her to share her passion of good food. Both Joe and Judith are familiar faces at the East Atlanta Farmer’s Market where they sell their gorgeous produce, share a smile and enthuse buyers to go home and get cooking. They really are a dynamic duo. They have travelled beyond our borders, and had considered growing food or self-sufficiency purposes. At one stage in their lives, although I have an inkling that this stage has not yet passed to rest, they had considered settling in central or south America. Their travel aspirations and ideals have lead to good, locally grown food, a stamp to treasure in the culinary world’s and consumer’s passports.
We’re wondering around the farm, chatting about what’s growing, the unusually warm weather and this land’s history. Although Joe and Judith took ownership of this farm a few years back, and although they use the name ‘Love is Love‘ for their farm, they vow to keep the original name Gaia Gardens going strong. So we have ‘Love is Love at Gaia Gardens’. Gaia Gardens has been in existence for 15 years now. Joe and Judith respect this timeline. It’s not just about the name, it’s also a matter of integrity. After all, growing beautiful, nourishing food is an art form, and art is hard to replicate, but it can be maintained, restored and enriched, just as this couple are doing for Gaia Gardens. The site rests smack in the middle of residential lots known as the East Lake Commons and some residents have their own little lots to host their food production. Everyone who uses this land to grow food is certified organic and is expected to go through the certification process as deemed required. It’s a relatively painless process, and Joe can handle the paperwork required to maintain certification. It’s just the business part that can be a challenge. Understandable. I see Joe being far more at ease tending to the land than trying to market his produce and tally bunches of numbers. Hang on…no need for Joe to pitch his produce. It speaks for itself. You’ll be hooked immediately. I hope they have more shitake mushrooms this season… crazy delicious.
The walking and conversation leads us to a scenic spot. I set down my 8 month old son on the lush grass to free my hands to manipulate my camera, expressing that my shots won’t do this moment justice. Our conversation is a back drop to the hazey, overcast skies and purple and grey hues of the thriving kales and collards intermingled with the emerald green grass. A little further on, Joe submerges his hand into a pile of compost and pulls out a handful of black gold, an earth worm happily squirming its way through. The cover crop grasses are burnt from the sun, but their roots have plenty to offer the soil when tilling comes around. Joe reveals one symbiotic story after another, finding clover nestled between the grasses, describing the nitrogen-fixing properties of this. All of these stories have residence here, on this lot enclosed by city homes. Urban ag spreads its roots and reveals itself as secret gardens throughout this sprawling city. Remarkable.
Joe returns to the green house to continue seeding. I graze on the sites and sounds, retiring to the rows of kale and collards we had passed earlier, leaning in a little closer to get a shot of the Lacinato kale. My little one is digging the earth, his finger nails happily grubby. On our departure I thank Joe for the bunch of beets he gave me for an experimental bruschetta I plan to make. He smiles and kindly carries my stroller to my car. He suggests that I bring my little one back to hang out. I’m thinking that when my boy is older, I want him to learn to be a better grower than me, so maybe Joe can show him the ropes. Then I think, as I load him into his seat, that if he decides to be a farmer, so be it. I know for sure that Joe’s family must be beaming with pride.
Jess Avasthi, Real Time Farms Winter 2010 Food Warrior, Keeping Food Real