Truly Living Well Natural Urban Farms, a network of organic metro Atlanta farms that offers fresh food and teaches how crops can enrich lives and build communities.Boston-born and Harvard-educated K. Rashid Nuri's love of agriculture has taken him around the world. The 62-year-old urban farmer and former Clinton appointee to the U.S. Agriculture Department operates
What made you dedicate your life to farming?
Im a child of the 1960s. Back then, we were talking about nation building. In order to build a nation, youve got to be able to feed, clothe, and shelter your people. So I decided that I wanted to learn everything about food, from the seed to the table.
What caused people to lose their connection with the land and food?
We are an urban society. That's taking us away from our soil. Atlantas a cleaner city by virtue of open space and trees, but its also one of the most toxic. The best way to mitigate this toxicity and reduce our carbon footprint is to grow our own food. This is because the food isn't traveling. It cuts out that energy expense by more than half.
Why is it important to reconnect people with agriculture?
Weve gotten too far away from the land. Most of the food we eat travels 1,700 or more miles to get to our table. Its important for people to know who grows it, the quality, where it comes from. And thats what were trying to do help people get grounded and reconnected with the land.
What do you grow?
Right now, we have collards, kale, mustards, turnips, broccoli, char, carrots, lettuce, arugula. Thats not bad, huh? (laughs)
What made you decide to put the farm where you have?
Circumstances brought it about. When I came here, one of the ladies who helped me start this farm was at the beauty salon. She was telling a woman who was working on her eyebrows what we were talking about doing. And she said, Oh, Ive got a piece of land. And I said OK and we began to grow there.
Would you like to expand?
Absolutely Im just looking for a guardian angel who will help. Everything we do can be used in the front yard and back yard. We have young people and older folks who come through who work as interns, volunteer, learn what we do and then take it home and do it for themselves.
How do you feel when youre on the farm?
I feel good. Mother Earth is a very soothing entity. Thats her job to nurture us. Thats where I find peace and serenity. I find God. Most people get up and go to work everyday, and its like going to hell. I get up and go to work every day and I get to meet God. Thats pretty special.
What are some of the challenges and some of the benefits of being an urban farmer in metro Atlanta?
Getting municipalities to understand. Some cities have regulations against people having backyard chickens, for example. Impediments are created. Helping people get greater awareness. And getting civic leaders involved in the process. We have the land, we have the space, we just need to create support for the work rather than impediments.
Can you describe how your community-supported agriculture program works?
People pay us in advance and come pick it up on a periodic basis. Some come every week. We have a lot of flexibility. We dont pack a box for you. We put the food out on a table and let people choose whats available and let them take it home. All we ask is that you that you dont can it or freeze it. We want it to stay as fresh food. We give you a card that we punch each time you come, so it's your pass. So you are entitled to come a certain number of times. We have those who show up like clockwork and then those who show up every month, maybe just purchase a season. And we also sell to restaurants and stores. We have an on-farm market.
Is there a segment of your market that doesn't have access to fresh food?
The question you're asking me is about food deserts. In Vine City, they had one Publix that recently closed. In that area there is no source for food. They have to travel well outside their community to find fresh food. Food access is key. Another part of the equation [in that neighborhood] is that there are huge, open spaces where food could be grown and which we could provide to the community. If there were a foundation that could finance the production, we could grow food and give it away to low-income people. But people need to have access to food, Particularly in these areas that we call "food deserts," where you can only get a banana or an apple at a gas station. I'd like to see an emphasis on edible landscaping. You look around you've got all these beautiful trees, why can't there be fruit trees? You can eat apples, but most people don't eat acorns.
Who are your role models or heroes in this world?
Thats a tough question. My heroes and my role models are people who give service to mankind and who put their service to people ahead of themselves. From an agricultural point of view, George Washington Carver saved the South with his work. People think of him and think peanuts, but they dont understand that he also established soybeans, sweet potatoes and established crop rotations to revive the soil. It was George Washington Carver who saved the cotton industry from the boll weevil. He came along and showed people how to grow food and how to save themselves. In terms of my life, Muhammad Ali resonates with me.
Of all your crops, what's your favorite?
(laughs) That's the sad part. I don't eat as much of my own food. Last week, we did the harvest, it was a good harvest. I had a bag of food. And I said I'm going to have a little bit of greens at the end of this that I can take home and cook for myself. And this lady said, 'I want some kale, Rashid.' So I gave a woman the last of my harvest. But I want to be sure people get fed. I sometimes get accused of not sufficiently taking care of myself. But I want people to have good food.
Would you change anything about your life?
If I could change anything it probably would've been how to stay married. (laughs) Outside of that not much. It's been a nice ride. I 'm not done. I've got a lot left to do. I want to live to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. That'll be in 2054. That's how long I want to live. I need to start eating my food if I want to do that.
(Photo by Joeff Davis)
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