Why Our Lives Depend On Regenerative Farming And Soil Health

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Exclusive Agritecture Interview

In this interview, Agritecture speaks with David Melton of Fresh Harvest, a company redefining Atlanta’s local food community. Over 80% of their products are grown within 70 miles of Atlanta. By focusing on local growers, they are contributing to a reduction in fuel emission of shipping cross-country, supporting Georgia's agricultural economy, connecting people with farmers and their stories, and creating a community of local food enthusiasts in Atlanta.

AGR: Can you tell us about Fresh Harvest and how you got started?

David Melton: Fresh Harvest provides home delivery of local organic groceries throughout Metro Atlanta. Started in 2012, Fresh Harvest is based in Clarkston GA, a small refugee resettlement community East of Atlanta. We have 30 employees, many of whom are refugees from all over the world. Along with our customers, we are building an ethical food hub in Atlanta by supporting sustainable agriculture, minimizing food/packaging waste, and creating jobs for our refugee neighbors in Clarkston.

AGR: How does Fresh Harvest support local farmers?

DM: We work with 33 local farms, creating a more diversified version of the traditional CSA, that mitigates risks and increases benefits to local growers.  When FH customers tell us what they like and don’t like, we compile that data then crop plan with farmers before the season begins. We commit to buying agreed-upon values of these items for upcoming weeks, months or even years in advance. A reliable sales channel means farmers can confidently put seeds in the ground with customer names on them.  In 2018, thanks to our community of Atlanta customers, we spent $1,120,547 on local farms that are an average of 70 miles from Atlanta. 

AGR: What efforts does Fresh Harvest take to eliminate food waste and packaging waste? 

DM: Each week our customers customize their basket contents before a specific cut off time.  We then tell our farmers exactly what they need to fulfill the next week’s orders. That means at the end of the delivery week our coolers are empty and there is significantly less waste on the retail side and farming side.  Any produce that doesn't make the delivery cut gets composted at the Fresh Harvest garden and goes back into the ground to fertilize more organic veggies.

Since we started 7 years ago, we have utilized reusable packaging.  Each week, our customers’ old baskets, ice packs, and insulating foil are picked up on delivery, then washed and reused to reduce waste.  Trashing your packaging is more convenient than remembering to put it out on the delivery day. But it has serious consequences. Fresh Harvest customers, however, are participating in a system where their convenience (home delivery), is actually contributing to a cleaner planet.

AGR: Your farmers practice restorative agriculture- what does that mean and why are regenerative agriculture and soil health so important? 

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DM: Regenerative farming models nature through diversity. It features an ecosystem of diverse and rotating crop varieties, beneficial animal pasturing, and a reliance on natural pollinators.  Everything plays a part in returning life to the soil, which yields nutrient-rich produce in season. Other tenants of sustainable agriculture include minimal soil disturbance, cover cropping, and systems intentionally designed to build topsoil.  

It’s no exaggeration to say that soil health is important because our lives literally depend on it.  Our planet is covered with an average of about three feet of topsoil, the layer responsible for producing vegetation, which in turn sustains livestock. Healthy topsoil is a connected web of countless microorganisms that, when left undisturbed, will erode then regenerate at the rate of about an inch every several hundred years. Needless to say, unless the rate of erosion is less than that of regeneration, Earth’s topsoil will eventually run out along with our food supply.

Sustainable farms not only maintain healthy bodies and a healthy planet, but they also have the power to regenerate those bodies, communities and even the most lifeless soil.

AGR: How has Fresh Harvest and this integration of local food and urban ag impacted the Metro ATL community?

DM: Michael Wall, the Director of Farmer Services for Georgia Organics answered this well when addressing Fresh Harvest customers: “You are participating in a revolutionary food system that is separate and distinct from a larger one that has a lot of problems with it.  It is the beginning of our next, more long term, truly sustainable food system that has the potential to right a lot of wrongs in terms of environmental and economic disparity. When you are transparent and working on putting money into a family operation on a more grassroots scale you are righting several wrongs.  At the end of the day, you’re fixing a broken system and you’re having fun doing it!”