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Fulton County Success Stories

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Urban Farmer Sets Out to Prove That a Healthy Lifestyle Is Possible Anywhere

By Karen Buckley Washington, Lawrenceville

Urban farming is a growing trend in the Atlanta metropolitan area. For Fulton County landowner Arletha Dixon, it’s more than a trend – it’s a passion. Dixon’s history in agriculture began with her father’s educational studies in horticulture. Combined with her mother’s commitment to promoting good health as a physician, Dixon adopted her parents’ career paths and began teaching urban agriculture to children.

In March 2010, Dixon’s dedication to urban agriculture led her to start Metro Atlanta Urban Farm on 4.5 acres of land in urban College Park. Placing a piece of the country within the city came with numerous concerns. After researching on assistance programs for socially disadvantaged farmers through land grant institutions like Fort Valley State University and Alabama A&M University, Dixon discovered the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Valarie Pickard, district conservationist for NRCS in Marietta, helped Dixon learn about NRCS programs available to small and beginning farmers. Dixon applied for cost share through Environmental Quality Incentives Program in 2011 and was awarded a contract, as a socially disadvantaged farmer.

"The odd shape of her (Dixon’s) land limited her possibilities when it came to irrigation," said Pickard. "Then, there were also concerns over possible erosion due to the unusual location of the farm." Pickard recommended a micro-irrigation system (commonly known as 'drip’ irrigation) to conserve water by limiting the amount wasted, yet allowing the flexibility to accommodate almost any field shape. To address the erosion concerns, Pickard suggested planting a cover crop.

"My favorite aspect of NRCS is that they are very hands-on with farmers," Dixon said. "Farmers can work closely with NRCS employees and connectively problem-solve conservation issues. The assistance provided by NRCS has been invaluable."

These conservation practices have helped Dixon to develop the foundation for what will be a thriving farm in an urban area. The early success of the Metro Atlanta Urban Farm has been so significant that the farm is now catching the attention of metro Atlanta at large.

"This farm not only belongs to me, it belongs to the public," Dixon says. With public service in mind, Metro Atlanta Urban Farm hosted the Fulton County Small and Beginning Farmers Workshop Oct. 20, 2011, where new farmers attended to learn about the assistance they too can receive from NRCS.

Dixon is working to send a message, especially to children, that as long as you have the right knowledge and help, you can have fresh food anywhere – even in the city.

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NRCS Helps Beginning Farmer in Fulton County

By Karen Buckley Washington, Lawrenceville

Arthur Ferdinand was looking for a way to stay active and reconnect with nature. So, he and his wife Betty bought a 38-acre plot of land in Chattahoochee Hills, which had been abandoned for years.

Ferdinand had a vision for Chaguana Farm, but possessed little knowledge on how to get started. A call to George Hadley at the Fulton County Extension Office led him to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

The Ferdinands’ land was covered in kudzu and after four painstaking years of clearing the brush, destroying kudzu pods and planting grass, they were ready for some direction on how to best use the land.

District Conservationist, Valarie Pickard, provided Ferdinand and his wife with the conservation plan that they needed to make their land sufficient for farm use. They worked with Pickard to develop ideas on how to use the land and attended NRCS workshops and informational meetings, of which Betty became a 'regular.’ After some deliberation, they decided to purchase twenty-two Black Angus cows and try rotational grazing.

With cost share funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Ferdinands have installed watering facilities, cross fencing to separate their land into sections for rotational grazing, as well as heavy use areas to protect the paths that his cattle would use day-to-day and pasture planting.

Establishing these practices has increased the quality of grass and hay supply on their land, diminishing the need for extra additives in his cattle’s food supply. The watering facility is a low maintenance, protective alternative to provide the cattle with drinking water. All of these practices cut down on the daily upkeep of the land, thus lowering overall cost.

“One of my favorite aspects of NRCS is the ability to do my own research, work with them to find solutions and make the ideas a reality,” said Ferdinand.

In the future, the Ferdinands hope to incorporate an all natural grazing process, to cut down on cost. Their goal is to show future generations that it is less expensive to work with nature rather than against it.

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Little River Watershed Dams in Fulton County 

The State Soil and Water Conservation District-Fulton County (SSWCD-FC) sponsors eleven watershed dam structures in Fulton County. During the severe storms in 2003 and 2004, the district became seriously concerned about the condition of these dams since the loss of life and property could occur if they were not maintained.

As a result, the SSWCD-FC has taken a proactive position on informing Fulton County of the issues and concerns of the Little River Watershed Dams. “The majority of the Fulton County watershed dams have reached their 50-year lifespan threshold, although they still provide adequate flood protection,” said Dee West, Chair, SSWCD-FC.

There has been increased construction around and near these watershed dams; however, and homeowners were unaware that the lake was built for flood control. Since education is a major component of the SSWCD-FC annual plan, they developed an educational pamphlet to let homeowner’s know the do’s and dont’s around the watershed dams in Fulton County.

They have successfully lobbied Fulton County to create and install noticeable signs near the watershed structures so the residents in the community will know who to contact if they notice any unusual activity occurring around the watershed structures.

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10 Years After the Olympic Games: A Look Back at the use of Native Plants in Urban Conservation

Ten years after the Olympics Games were held in Atlanta, the city has not only grown as a hub for commerce, but also as a leader in urban conservation. In the spring of 1996, Atlanta became the first location in the nation to explore the use of native plants in an urban setting.

The Atlanta native plants project (now known as the Grant Park Walking Tour) was a project of the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Georgia to reintroduce native plants to Grant Park. Thirty species of native plants were introduced for beautification and to control soil erosion in locations where vegetation was difficult to establish. Some of the plants were tested on rocky soils that retain little moisture, while others were planted in wet, poorly drained soils.

Each plant was selected for its suitability to an extreme growing condition. Not only were the native plants a welcome addition to Grant Park because of their natural beauty and there ability to grow on abused soil, but they came just in time for all of Atlanta’s visitors to enjoy during the 1996 Olympic Games. “The purpose of this project was to promote native plants as a way to address urban resource concerns and to beautify the city for the ’96 Olympic Games,” said Valerie Pickard, district conservationist, Urban Conservation Agronomist, for this project in 1996. “In 1994, we submitted a proposal, which made its way to the Atlanta Committee For the Olympic Games and it was approved.

This project allowed us to use NRCS’ Jimmy Carter Plants Materials Center as a support mechanism to assemble plant species and eight other plant materials centers and commercial sources for the actual propagation of plants.” Native plants help to preserve and improve the environment. In addition to addressing erosion issues, native plants can restore healthy conditions to wetland areas, create nesting sites, filter bacteria from ground water supplies and offer shelter to tender plants and animals.

Possibly the most attractive feature of native plants as it relates to the Olympic Games project is their heartiness. Because they have genetically adapted to Georgia soils and climates, native species require little to no maintenance and are more resistant to disease. The AmeriCorps Team assisted with locating, propagating, harvesting and planting NRCS plant materials.

In all, approximately 175,000 native plants were propagated or commercially purchased for use on urban sites: 13 Atlanta city parks, including Centennial Olympic Park and other Olympic venues. Ten years later, the plants are still thriving. “We weren’t sure if the natives were going to live because of smog, pollution and no watering,” said Pickard. “Just look at how they’re still thriving. Not many people know that these plants can function outside of wooded areas.

This project made more of a green-friendly environment for people who enjoy the urban parks.” Pickard says the Olympic Games native plants project has sparked a renewed interest in native plants among urban dwellers. “The success of the Olympic Games project has generated requests from people in urban areas, seeking information on how to incorporate backyard conservation practices at home.

Despite the negative image that is often given, many people in urban areas have an interest in protecting the land, just as much as those in rural areas. Projects like this are great educationally tools to teach people on a wide scale about conservation.” The Grant Park Walking tour includes a permanent exhibit in the center of Grant Park, presenting the importance of native plants and an explanation of the native plants initiative undertaken by NRCS.

A walking trail and pamphlet guide is also available to provide a detailed description of the native plants along twenty-four stops. 

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