Ruthie Norton, senior project manager for the city’s office of sustainability, said the Atlanta Local Food Initiative approached her office last fall about developing urban agriculture for first responders. The first growing season started this spring.
Norton said a $10,000 grant from The Coca-Cola Co. funded the program, which is incorporated into the city’s Power to Change initiative, which focuses on implementing sustainability practices throughout Atlanta.
She said firefighters received gardening training from the Fulton County Extension Office. Each station set up its garden individually, Norton said.
“Some of the stations have multiple raised beds,” she said. “Some only have one raised bed. Some have fruit trees. Some do not.”
Norton said the firefighters have been growing crops like eggplant, okra, tomatoes, peppers, green beans and herbs.
“We want to promote healthy living and make sure that we are taking care of our first responders and our employees,” she said.
Firefighter Michael Attard, who works out of Station No. 27 and serves as project manager for the 10 station gardens, said having the gardens teaches the public it is not hard to grow their own healthy food.
“As an organization we try to reduce risks — not just fires and injuries but if we can get people to eat healthier food, I think people will be healthier,” he said. “Throughout the city, we run so many calls [to aid victims of] strokes, heart attacks [and] certain forms of diabetes, and a lot of it’s just due to lifestyle and tied in closely to a lack of nutrition.”
Attard said all the produce is grown without the use of chemicals. Firefighters from Station No. 27 recycle their garden scraps and kitchen waste in a compost bin and also use worm composting to produce nutrient-rich soil without the use of traditional fertilizers.
“Our philosophy is if you put good-quality dirt in there, it feeds the plant and then the plant feeds us,” Attard said.
He said the first growing season has gone well. In addition to firefighters eating the produce themselves, the stations had extra crops to give away to community members, Attard said.
“Next year if we really get going, we want to donate a percentage to the Atlanta [Community] Food Bank and to charities,” he said.
Norton said though there are gardens at 10 stations now, there is a possibility for the program to expand to additional stations in the future.