Where blueberries grow wild, they’re often free for the picking. That’s the idea behind a fruit and nut tree park planned for Atlanta’s southeast side. (Jason Getz / jgetz@ajc.com)

Atlanta creates largest food forest in U.S.

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City Council, on a unanimous vote, approved the transformation of 7.1 acres of property near the Lakewood Fairgrounds and Browns Mill Golf Course into a public park and garden. The food forest is the first in Georgia and the largest in the United States, Councilwoman Carla Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill has been in the works since November 2016 when the city accepted an $86,150 grant from the U.S. Forest Service Community Forest and Open Space Program. The federal agency has contributed a total of $164,000 to the project, which has additional support from non-profit groups Trees Atlanta and The Conservation Fund.

The green space, which currently is vacant property, will feature trees, shrubs and vines that produce fruit along with walking trails, a community garden and restored forest and stream-side areas by 2020, according to the legislation.

Smith said residents will be able to pick their produce from trees in the public park free of charge.

“It’s just like going into a park and picking muscadines from a bush,” she said.

Smith said the land was previously owned by Ruby and Willie Morgan, who sold the property to a developer intending to build townhomes. The plan fell through and the property sat in disarray until The Conservation Fund brought it in 2016, she said.

The food forest is part of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ plan to ensure 85% of Atlanta residents are within a half mile of accessible fresh food by 2021.

In 2017, 36% of Atlanta was classified as a food desert, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A quarter of Atlanta residents must travel more than a half mile to get fresh fruits and vegetables, the USDA said.

The city will buy the property from The Conservation Fund for $157,384, according to the legislation. The property will be managed by the city Department of Parks and Recreation.

Trees Atlanta, which is already conducting educational programs at the site, has contributed $121,500 to hire part-time staff, including a food forest ranger and community workforce educator. The city will also create a trust fund for outreach efforts related to the food forest.

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