Fredando Jackson, sits on a picnic bench on the patio of Pretoria Fields Collective Brewery in Albany, Georgia. It’s one of the first spring days of the year, and the sun warms the exposed brick wall that encircles Pretoria’s patio, highlighting the imprints of long-gone doors and windows on the old brick. He slowly sips their strawberry wheat ale, brewed with grains from Pretoria’s farm and strawberries
from Fredando’s farm. Fredando looks like a farmer—plaid shirt, trucker cap, and the strong hands of someone who spends their days working the land.
Fredando is on a mission to return Albany to its roots, to how rural Georgia’s food system used to be—community based and local.
“It’s a tradition here,” he explains, taking a sip of the pinkish beer. “When you’re in rural communities, especially southwest Georgia, most towns used to have a farm stand where everyone would buy their produce–but now they’re overgrown, abandoned, and the sign is faded. But that’s how things used to be. So I’m reintroducing this way of eating and thinking about food. I call it a throwback to pre-refrigeration days. There’s a trend nationally towards hyper-local, towards people wanting to know who produced their food, but that’s how most rural communities functioned before refrigeration and before automobiles made our current food system possible.”
Fredando’s desire to return to the traditional food system doesn’t stem from some wistful nostalgia for roadside produce stands—it’s because the current food system has utterly failed the Albany community. Food deserts cover wide swaths of Albany’s Dougherty county, and the grocery stores that do exist have limited produce options. Diet related illnesses affect the community at sky-high rates. Dougherty county has Georgia’s second highest food insecurity rate, second only to Clay county, with more than 26% of the population categorized as food insecure.
“One neighborhood, there was just one grocery store for miles. And it was destroyed by Hurricane Michael last year, so now that area has no grocery store,” explains Fredando. “When I first came here, I saw a need for access to food. So I asked myself–how could we bring food to people who need it?”
Since the grocery stores wouldn’t come to these communities, Fredando decided to do what rural communities had done before—grow their own food.
“If I could teach people how to grow, I could increase people’s access to food, and also help create a new generation of organic growers.”
Fredando started the Grow Your Groceries program to teach people easy, simple ways to grow their own produce.
He began working with faith-based groups to convert parcels of church property into farms, and worked with the city of Albany to install raised gardens at public parks and schools.
In 2016, Albany received a grant from the National Association of Conservation Districts to form the new Flint River Soil and Water Conservation Program. In 2017, they hired Fredando to lead their urban agricultural and food access initiatives, creating Flint River Fresh.
Since then, Fredando has partnered with the City of Albany, Dougherty County Schools, Pretoria Fields, and many other to regrow the food and farm ecosystem that used to nurture the Albany community. When Fredando isn’t connecting local farmers to Pretoria for sourcing, operating the Flint River Fresh farmers market at the brewery, teaching children and adults about gardening, or advocating for small farmers, he can be found wheeling a shopping cart turned mobile garden bed along the side of the Flint River in downtown Albany. “I have this to show that you can grow anywhere,” he remarks. “This one shopping cart can easily grow more lettuce than a family can eat.”
“It takes a village, it’s all hands on deck to help our communities be healthier,” explains Blaine Allen, School Nutrition Director at Dougherty County School System. Fredando has partnered with the school system for the past six year, installing garden beds, conducting taste tests, teaching, and connecting the schools with local farmers.
“It’s about what Fredando says,” reflects Blaine. “He says, ‘I grow, we grow.’ That says it right there–we all grow together.”
Learn more about Flint River Fresh by following them on Instagram @flintriverfresh!
—by Porter Mitchell