Head due west on Highway 234 out of Albany and you’ll find a special place.
Before the city gives way to the flat horizons of peanuts and cotton, a series of small cultivated fields beside a little red-roofed building signals a different kind of agricultural operation. These unassuming 16.5 acres constitute Healthy Living Farms.
As the name suggests, the mission here is markedly different from its rural neighbors. Instead of commodities to be processed into sweetened snacks or exported across the ocean, HLF aims to grow nutritious food for its community. More than that, it believes that growing and consuming organic food from local farms and community gardens can combat poor academic performance, child obesity, and sagging economic development.
It’s a critical time to promote human, environmental and economic health in Albany. The city trails the state average in the number of high school and college graduates, homeownership, and both per capita and median income. According to the U.S. Census, its poverty rate in 2013 was over 34 percent. But Albany has uniquely positive demographic points as well. It’s one of Georgia’s leaders in the number of businesses owned by African-Americans and women, both of which are evidenced in Healthy Living Farms.
A “marketplace ministry initiative,” Healthy Living Farms was formally started with the purchase of the farm property in 2011. Over the next year, Ann Milton and Regina Glass, members of its leadership team, charted a path of workshops, seminars, conference and outreach to various government agencies, universities and experienced growers to establish a premiere organic farm. HLF now offers one of the few Albany-based Community Supported Agriculture programs and provides consulting for home and community gardens. There is also an on-farm market every Thursday, Friday and Saturday throughout the growing season, featuring produce fresh from the farm and local farmers committed to growing without chemicals. Customers can purchase items with EBT/SNAP benefits, as well as traditional methods of payments.
When Georgia Organics began looking for ways to expand its educational opportunities on organic and sustainable production in southwest Georgia, Healthy Living Farms presented an obvious partner. In addition to increasing access to local, chemical-free food, part of HLF’s mission is to use its site as a training farm, assisting farmers in sustainable production, implementing good business practices, and achieving organic certification.
As a result, Georgia Organics and Healthy Living Farms are collaborating on five workshops to be held in Albany through September of 2015. Each workshop will focus on common issues that small and sustainable farmers face, such as organic fertilizer conversions, seed selection, food safety and budgeting. Scheduled for late April, the first training will cover High Tunnel optimization and irrigation and will be led by Cory Mosser of Natural Born Tillers.
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is supporting these educational efforts through an Outreach Grant. NRCS offers numerous cost-sharing programs for many sustainable farm practices, including irrigation, cross-fencing, high tunnels, and organic production. Through its StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative, the USDA targets assistance in counties with persistent poverty, which affects most of southwest Georgia.
For more information about upcoming workshops or Healthy Living Farms, visit www.healthylivingfarms.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the NRCS, visit your local USDA Services Center.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under number 68-4310-12-59.