Growing In The Community: Davida Halev talks Urban Food Forest

Published by Kennae Hunter on

Growing In The Community: Davida Halev talks Urban Food Forest

Davida Halev stands in the plotted portion of the Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill.
Kennae Hunter | Avant-Youth

Davida Halev, a senior at Emory University, began her involvement with the Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill in August 2020. It is a program that’s part of AgLanta, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ initiative to have healthy food accessible to 85 percent of Atlanta’s residents within a half mile of their home by 2022. 

“I found out about it in August,” Halev said. “I just called around and someone told me about it and let me know because I was really trying to get in food systems and food justice. They asked me had I heard of the food forest and I was like ‘no, what’s that?’”

The community garden is located on land known as a food desert, an area with low opportunity to access nutritious food at an affordable price. The Urban Food Forest at Brown’s Mill is the first community garden in Atlanta, breaking soil in 2017, and the largest in the nation, stretching over seven acres of land. 

“In this neighborhood, [Browns Mill], there is no working supermarket with fresh and healthy foods that are available in a half mile of walking distance,” Halev said. 

The garden consists of mostly fruits, vegetables, spices and other herbs that can be used for medicinal purposes to treat illnesses, such as gastronomical problems or anxiety.

There are different plots of land run by different food forest teams along with a compost and greenhouse. To keep the forest uniform and useful for everyone, there are harvesting guidelines for residents, but the volunteers are able to pick some of the ready crops they grew. 

Kennae Hunter | Avant-Youth

Although Halev is majoring in Sociology and Sustainability, her involvement with the Urban Food Forest opened her eyes to the global need for food and nutrition. Her team has been growing the community compost system since September, although it has been built for a year and a half. Halev is interested in food systems and helping them get into more urban areas at low cost.  

“Compost is old food that, after several weeks of digesting water, air and turning it, turns into soil that’s really rich and grows new food,” Halev said. “It’s recycling food and nutrients from the community and the garden to grow food for the community and the garden.”

Composting bins. Kennae Hunter | Avant-Youth

 The community compost team partnered with Gooder and the Greening Youth Foundation because they were able to bring in more youth to participate in agricultural conservation through green jobs. The extra hands in this project allowed the team to turn over 1000 pounds of food into soil this past semester. 

“I worked with the Greening Youth Foundation, a Youth Corps., that would come out here every week,” Halev said. “We would learn about compost and learn about the benefits of environmental education, why it’s important, food, food access and try to draw the larger picture than just compost.” 

The edible crops are planted among native plants and shrubs to provide a stronger ecosystem for native wildlife and allow for regeneration of edible food in the community. Residents of the Brown’s Mill neighborhood can apply for a permit to grow there now that it is prepped and has its own plot of land. 

Kennae Hunter | Avant-Youth

Halev hopes to work in a field that increases access to healthy foods for everyone and not just those of the upper class able to afford it. Although she knows the direction she is headed in, she is still trying to find which route to take regarding social work or agriculture. 

“What I am interested in right now is increasing plant based foods in stores and increasing grocery markets as well,” Halev said. “Plant based, as in increasing use of healthy foods, not being vegan or anything. The foods available in neighborhoods like this are low cost fast food chains. I believe the stores nearby should have fruits and vegetables available at the same cost as a small bag of chips.”

The McDonald’s plant based substitute, the “Impossible burger,” is an example provided by Halev as an alternative to eating the less nutritious beef option. She believes introducing more tasty, “feel good” foods as a replacement to the less healthy options will generate a more positive response from the community, creating a stepping stone to better nutrition patterns. 

“It will be difficult because food is very personal,” Halev said. “It is culturally very personal and people have really strong preferences on what they eat, so it is tough to say ‘you need to change what you eat.’ But, I think it starts with education and we don’t have nearly enough education in our school system about what nutrition is and how it affects our bodies. It is new and more science is coming out about how poor diets are directly linked to poor health.”

The ultimate goal of the Urban Food Forest is to create sustainability at lower costs and greenhouse productions.

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Kenneth Hunter · March 11, 2021 at 4:43 pm

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