Mark DiNatale is a dreamer. Energetic, innovative, and well-educated in his field, the young farmer shares his dream with anyone who will lend an ear. This sort of creative thinking abounds in Atlanta, where dreamers like Mark are claiming the city and infusing its culture with their ideas and hopes.
With the creation of Fresh Roots Farm, Mark has leapt outside of agricultural expectations and is actively reframing the context of farming in Atlanta. Fresh Roots is located on a small plot of The Goat Farm, a 19th century cotton gin which has been refurbished into a West Midtown arts center and living space.
Mark stands in the middle of a flourishing garden, in the shadow of a staggeringly tall sunflower. It has been only four years since the beginnings of Fresh Roots Farm.“There is an incredible demand in Atlanta for the type of food we are growing. It is often overwhelming because the demand is so much higher than our capacity for production right now.” Mark and the Fresh Roots partners are faced with exactly the sort of “problem” for which all farmers hope—overwhelming demand.
The high volume of Atlantans who have rallied around urban farms like Fresh Roots in the last few years points to the sort of future Mark envisions, a future of “building better communities through better food.” Fresh Roots commands a loyal following at the East Lake Farmers Market, and they continually sell out their CSA memberships each season. Mark and associate Matt Paull, a SCAD architecture student, have even been commissioned to design a sustainable garden for the roof of The W Hotel in Atlanta.
The Fresh Roots team is much more than a group of urban farmers. DiNatale, Paull, Aaron Jeffries, Kim Lee and Liz Stephens form a dynamic team of permaculture visionaries. Mark’s business background and time spent in the Peace Corps lend an entrepreneurial spirit to the Fresh Roots team. “We believe in the business of farming,” Mark says. “We see a future in for-profit urban farming and we want to provide a model for this business. Ultimately, we want to educate people about the benefits of urban farming. We see a well-functioning for-profit farm as the best future for what we are trying to accomplish.”
Mark and the Fresh Roots crew have already expanded into two other Atlanta gardens, one in Cabbagetown and one in Riverview Landing, and have plans for continued expansion. Do you have land in the city that has been left undeveloped? Mark and the team would love to “take this land off your hands.” Their mission statement proclaims, “Fresh Roots Farm is committed to using vacant or under-utilized land to grow fresh, healthy and delicious food.” Teaching Atlanta residents to utilize readily available land is key. “Using vacant lots in the city for gardens not only provides an additional source for good food, but also beautifies the city as well as adding value to the property.”
Mark and Matt excitedly expound upon the current success of the farm as well as its future. They are developing into a system that Fresh Roots believes to be the future of urban agriculture in Atlanta, “hub-and-spoke” farming. Now that Fresh Roots has three farm locations, the organization is working to find funding and a location for their “hub” farm. This large farm center will be a place for growing as well as education. It will be a place of connection for all the farmers in the city and a place for selling. It will be the queen bee of urban farming in Atlanta, with various small farms producing at different locations throughout the city.
This is a big dream and one that will take time and money. However, if this model were to become a reality, it would revolutionize the food culture of the city and potentially, cities throughout the country. Looking at Fresh Roots’ track record, this plan could very well become a reality. Mark and the Fresh Roots team seem to be in the business of realizing dreams.
The Fresh Roots team is at the East Lake Farmers Market, Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Interested in subscribing to their CSA? Want to volunteer? Find more information on their website: http://www.freshrootsfarm.com/FreshRoots.aspx