How Greenleaf Community Farms Engages Residents Through Urban Agriculture

unnamed-1.jpg

By Christa Leonard, Community Farm Manager at Greeleaf Community Farms

Christa Leonard settled in Atlanta to develop community farms and programming for Greenleaf Management. She brings an innovative mindset to community engaged farming by focusing on the Greenleaf residents through food access and education. She has developed systems for the community farm programs that focus on piloting new systems and using a data driven approach to track success within multi-family residential farm accessibility.

When Greenleaf Management began it was built under the goal to build community and a place to call home. We enable communities to flourish, to achieve dreams, and to share the best that life has to offer.

Greenleaf Community Farms began with a small community garden and flourished in to a farm program that engages our residents through hyper local, organically grown produce and community events.

Greenleaf Community Farms focuses on growing food, but more importantly, growing community. Through our farm programs we are able to bring the initiative to different properties through our Farm in a Box Program, educate and retain residents through our Farm to Resident Program, and engage our local community through creating strong relationships with our local government and businesses. Our properties are diverse and each farm has its own unique personality, but it is our visionary core values of sustainability, and social responsibility that drives us.

unnamed-2.jpg

It has been an interesting journey since our focus on programming began in June 2018. We had a small garden, but as we all know in the food world we have to figure out how do we engage our community. With that thought in mind, we worked to build our half acre farm at Eastside Crossing with the goal of piloting programs, standardizing building procedures, and utilizing our skills to engage and provide access and education to our residents. Unlike other farms, we have no focus on selling produce. Our focus is primarily on creating an environment where our residents want to continue to live. Retention is our primary focus.

It was important to us to start programs on small scales, piloting to see what worked and what didn’t. We were lucky that we did not have to go search for our community, it was already there. Though that seems like it would make everything easier, it was still a challenge to get out information and figure out how we were going to one, grow enough food, and two, distribute that food to our residents.

Our first thought was: let’s set up a system where the residents would pick their own using a harvest board to label what was ready and what was planted. This proved to be unsuccessful due to the fact that people were overwhelmed and timid about harvesting because they did not have any background in gardening or farming. It was also unsuccessful because plants ended up getting damaged or harvested incorrectly and we did not have the staff to train 60+ residents on how to properly harvest their food. We began making videos and sending them out, but as we all know in the world of marketing, email marketing rates tend to be below 30%. And this is where the idea of a text delivery system was born. We would essentially be creating a small free CSA that would use text to reach our residents. This has proved to be very successful and I look forward to going into this further at the AgLanta Conference in April.

unnamed-3.jpg

Another hurdle was to figure out how we staff our programs so that we are able to grow. We know running a farm takes manpower. I am one person running multiple projects and so I needed help. This is where our resident liaison program was born. I took the idea of work-shares and just tweaked it a bit to make it a win-win for each party involved. We have had some challenges, mainly figuring out the best ways to track hours, what everyone’s strong skills are, and holding everyone accountable without really having to be the “farm police”. Overall, where we are at now is streamlined and is proving to be successful.

The farms have multiple projects and events that we are piloting. We always set our vision for what we are doing and set quarterly goals around that vision. It is crucial that we stay hyper focused on what it is that we visualize, start small, and document progress through data tracking. Transparency is very important to us as this program is very unique not only to the metro ATL area, but nationwide. There are many Agrihoods that offer farms and CSAs, but I think what makes our's unique is that we are providing access to a free amenity with the vision of always seeking to make the lives of our residents better.

Our residents range from students, to millennials, immigrant families, etc. and most property companies would not or are not able to figure out how to make this a financially viable option to these demographics. We are setting out to create a model that would do this. I am very excited about being a panelist and expanding on our projects at the Aglanta Conference. This will be my first speaking position and I am very much looking forward to hearing questions and getting to share “my baby” aka farm projects with you all.

Meet Christa Leonard at The AgLanta Conference 2019! Christa will be presenting on the panel Agrihoods: Not Just Your Neighborhood Farm.

Agritecture