Summit Recap: April 19 with Truly Living Well

The April 19, 2019 Transform Westside Summit featured guest speaker Carol Hunter, Executive Director for Truly Living Well (TLW) Center for Natural Urban Agriculture. TLW has two urban farm locations, including Collegetown Farm in the Ashview Heights neighborhood. A Westside Future Fund (WFF) impact partner, TLW supports WFF’s community health and wellness and cradle-to-career education initiatives.

Hunter joined TLW as a consultant eight years ago when TLW’s Collegetown location was first opened by founder K. Rashid Nuri. Shortly after, she was approached about the organization’s Executive Director role. “In my heart, I had just become a new grandmother and was ready to slow down,” she said. But what changed Hunter’s mind was an eleven-year-old girl named Tiffany. Tiffany was diagnosed with high blood pressure, something not common in young children. Hunter explained, “Her doctors said that diet and exercise could help make a difference, so her mother enrolled her in the (Truly Living Well) summer camp.” At camp, Tiffany was exposed to healthier food options and learned how to prepare it. And after only two weeks, Tiffany’s blood pressure came down.

In sharing about how TLW has evolved over the years, Hunter explained, “We’ve done three things really well: we grow food, we grow people and we grow community.”

Grow Food

The Collegetown site features 84 raised beds, 125 trees, a bee hive and a grow house – all the things needed to give Westside residents access to healthy food. Additionally, a farmer’s market is open every Friday at 2 p.m.

“What we put in our bodies really impacts every fiber of our being,” said Hunter. “We also need to help our community understand the nutritional value of that healthy food. The education pieces are so important.”

Grow People

TLW is in the process of training over 300 people in urban agriculture. “We also connect with local schools, like M. Agnes Jones Elementary, where they are training more than 500 dynamic young people every day,” Hunter said. She then introduced Dr. Margul Retha Woolfolk, Principal of M. Agnes Jones Elementary School.

“Five years ago, M. Agnes Jones was on a roller coaster trying to get STEM certified,” Woolfolk said. To assess what was needed, Woolfolk explained how the school brought local partners together in focus groups. Out of those groups, sustainability was identified as an opportunity for the school. She went on to say, “The next thing we know, we’re on a mission with Truly Living Well to provide professional development (to our educators).”

In describing the students’ first day visiting TLW, Woolfolk explained, “At first, our kids weren’t aware of how fruits and vegetables grow. They had never been exposed to that.” Now TLW and M. Agnes Jones work hand-in-hand to ensure all students understand the importance of food and nutrition. Woolfolk and the school are incredibly thankful for TLW, saying “You all have transformed the community and the school in so many ways.”

Earlier this month, M. Agnes Jones Elementary School became STEAM certified in part because of their partnership with TLW. STEAM certification, similar to STEM, recognizes an integrated curriculum around science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Grow Community

Partners like Food Well Alliance are vital for TLW to thrive and become sustainable. Food Well Alliance is a collaborative network of local leaders working together to build thriving community gardens and farms across metro Atlanta. Kim Karris, Executive Director of Food Well Alliance, explained, “We believe food builds communities and we believe that farms and gardens, like Truly Living Well, really strengthen the heart of our cities and strengthen the hearts of our neighborhoods.”

Food Well Alliance’s goal is to help urban farms become more viable and sustainable long-term. Karris says a key component of that goal is to provide experiences for communities to connect with where their food comes from. Another component is to address food waste through high quality composting. “(Truly Living Well) is building the first-ever community composting lab, a demonstration site for students, young people, the community and the region to come and see how composting is done. We’re unveiling and previewing this lab at our annual Soil Festival,” said Karris.

The fifth annual festival will take place May 4, 1-5 p.m. “This is an opportunity that is bringing over 1,000 people together on a five-acre farm hosted by Truly Living Well.”

Hunter said, “All of these groups have come in partnership and community with us to help this transformation in our community. The Food Well Alliance has been instrumental in helping us do so many things on the farm.”

Hunter closed with a powerful message and asked attendees to “imagine a community where our food travels zero miles from farm-to-table. A community where we have farmers who are making a livable wage growing food in the community. People who can walk, jog, bike to get their food on a weekly basis at our market. We have children who are excelling in math, science, engineering and technology because they have access to a farm where they are learning to observe, apply and experiment. Chefs who are able to talk to the person growing their food and talk about special products we can grow for them. You don’t have to imagine it. Collegetown Farm is a nucleus for all of these activities. We need you as a Westside community to partner with us, continue to support us and help us grow.”

Summit attendees were then invited to ask questions of the guest speakers. One attendee asked if M. Agnes Jones Elementary School is involved with the composting lab. Woolfolk said, “Our fourth-grade curriculum talks about ecology and composting. We didn’t know anything about composting until we connected with Truly Living Well. We learned so much, so it’s just a natural part of what we do now. Everything we grow at M. Agnes Jones is organic.”

Another attendee asked if Truly Living Well has created a niche in therapeutic programming as a revenue stream in farm therapy for mental health, emotional health and wellbeing. Hunter said, “Several years ago we noticed so many people coming who had diagnosed illnesses. Rashid invested in sending me and our staff to get training and certification in horticultural therapy. This year, we are beginning to expand those programs.”

Another attendee asked if the Collegetown farm will be able to remain on its current land. Hunter explained, “We’re working with the Atlanta Housing Authority and we will own that land. It will be ours. We’re glad to be rooted on the Westside. We’re there, we’re committed to stay.”

Another attendee asked how TLW addresses unhealthy habits as part of the education component. “What we try to do in our education program is explain the benefits of eating naturally organic, healthy food. We talk about what happens when you increase your plant-based diet. We talk about when you start putting herbs in your food instead of salt. We talk about the natural things that are growing in our community that are good for your health. We’re trying to show positively how you can make small changes.”

Another attendee asked if there are other urban farms and gardens on the Westside. Karris said, “In the five-county region just in the metro-Atlanta region, we have close to 300 community gardens and about 50 urban farms. And that’s growing. The highest concentration of urban agriculture is actually on the Westside. Truly Living Well is really the hub. Those gardeners, those farmers who are growing on the Westside have all come through these training programs at Truly Living Well. So if you think about Truly Living Well as being this permanent space, it’s also a training spot to replicate and continue the movement.”

Devotion by Rev. Robert Wayne Crummie

The Summit’s morning devotion was led by Rev. Robert Wayne Crummie, President of Carver College and Senior Pastor of Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in College Park. He focused on how WFF has given the community answers by showing concern and making inquiries, similar to that of Nehemiah in the Bible.

Additional Summit highlights:

  • The Anti-Displacement Tax Fund program deadline has been extended to June 1, 2019. To date, 94 Westside homeowners have enrolled in the program. Apply here.
  • More than 40 people registered to volunteer for the April Day of Service at Lindsey Street Park on April 20.
  • Summit attendees who are current residents of the Westside or who work for a nonprofit serving Westside neighborhoods have a chance to win a $50 gift card from The Home Depot. Congratulations to Just Us Neighbors resident Lisa Stines, the April 19 raffle winner.

Watch the entire Summit presentation by viewing the below video.

Transform Westside Summit – April 19 2019

Transform Westside Summit – Friday, April 19, 2019 About the Transform Westside Summit: Westside Future Fund’s Transform Westside Summit is held on the 1st and 3rd Friday of each month and is free and open to the public. Our audience includes a diverse group of stakeholders. Longtime neighborhood residents, community and faith leaders, heads of non-profits and corporate executives come together to share success stories and discuss challenges that currently affect our Westside neighborhoods. Meetings begin promptly at 7:15 a.m. with morning devotion,* presented by a member of the historic Westside community, and complimentary breakfast, provided by Summit sponsor Chick-fil-A. Many in our community are driven by their spiritual faith to participate in the Westside revitalization effort. The time at the beginning of our meetings is an opportunity to share various inspirational reflections. While the speakers may articulate their personal faith, it is meant to be inclusive, inspiring and meaningful. All are welcome.

Posted by Westside Future Fund on Friday, April 19, 2019