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Atlanta shows it cares for its food community

“Kudos to the ATL restaurant community. Very special how they care for their own — a model for any city. #teamhidi #restaurants #Atlanta”

I posted the above on Twitter Jan. 31 after attending Team Hidi, the annual fundraiser for local nonprofit the Giving Kitchen. This organization assists members of the Atlanta restaurant industry with crisis relief grants. It is the most impressive restaurant-focused charity I have ever encountered.

Since its inception in 2013, the Giving Kitchen has helped more than 350 individuals, dispensing an average amount of $1,500 to applicants. At this year’s Team Hidi, it raised $382,150. More than 85 percent of the money will be distributed as grants to restaurant workers.

But the Giving Kitchen isn’t the only commendable organization I learned of recently. The Farmer Fund exists to help another group that is part of Atlanta’s food equation. Founded last year, the Farmer Fund provides emergency relief to area farmers whose food makes its way to local farmers markets, restaurants or Community Supported Agriculture subscription baskets.

Two cases that Farmers Fund has been involved with lately include Rise ’n Shine Farm and Global Growers, both of which have been impacted by historic flooding.

In late December, a deluge of rain turned 30 acres of Mitch Lawson’s Rise ’n Shine Farm in Calhoun into a veritable lake; the certified organic vegetable farm sat for a week under up to 5 feet of water. Floodwaters destroyed an estimated 8,500 pounds of produce — Brussels sprouts, rutabagas and carrots — that was ripe for harvesting. In addition, three electric fence chargers suffered damage. Lawson’s crop and equipment loss totaled nearly $19,000.

Case No. 2 is that of Global Growers, an organization that supports a network of farms and community gardens in DeKalb County, with a focus on providing economic opportunities for refugee families from agrarian backgrounds. The families maintain plots on which they grow food and sell it commercially, primarily through CSAs, but also to Atlanta restaurants and via the Global Growers stand at the Decatur Farmers Market.

On a wet Christmas Eve, Snapfinger Creek rose over its banks. Four feet of water rushed through Global Growers’ 15-acre farm hub, Bamboo Creek Farm, in Stone Mountain. Its irrigation system and barn were damaged, soil amendments and fertilizers were destroyed and the logs it uses for cultivating shiitake mushrooms were washed away.

“It created quite a mess for us,” summed up Robin Chanin, Global Growers executive director.

The two small-scale farming operations were both in need of help. Enter the Farmer Fund and its matching grant program. Lawson applied for a $2,000 grant, having learned about the organization from a fellow farmer. A private donor gave Lawson the other $2,000 he needed to secure the Farmer Fund dollars, which Lawson will put toward equipment purchases.

Lawson noted that the turnaround between applying and receiving the grant was very fast. “I made the request within a week after the flooding. I was able to come up with the donor of the matching fund really quick. It was maybe two weeks later I got the money,” he said.

“It allows me to move forward with equipment to make the farm run more efficiently,” Lawson said. Now in its 12th season, Rise ’N Shine grows more than 40 types of produce, with numerous varieties of each. Most of what Lawson grows ends up in CSA shares and other box programs. He also counts BoccaLupo and Serpa’s among his restaurant clientele.

Global Growers has applied for a $2,000 matching grant and hopes to raise the other $2,000 it needs to secure the funds through a dine-out event at Twain’s Brewpub & Billiards in Decatur March 7. Twain’s will donate 10 percent of proceeds from food and beverages to Global Growers.

Both Chanin and Lawson agreed that, while the money from the Farmer Fund isn’t a huge amount, they appreciate the financial assistance and the moral support that comes with it.

“The $2,000 from the Farmer Fund does not come close to being able to cover the loss. It is a limited amount, but it’s also tremendously helpful,” Chanin said. “Having a group like the Farmer Fund immediately reach out to say, ‘I’m so sorry. How can we help?’ — that means so much.”

“It’s nice to know now when I lose a crop from natural disaster this is somewhere to go for help,” Lawson said.

But more help was on the way for Lawson. On Feb. 6, Atlanta members of Crop Mob Georgia (a group that Lawson described as “wannabe farmers who don’t have a farm, so they come out and volunteer”) descended on his farm to help clean up his 2-acre strawberry field so that the plants wouldn’t become diseased after having sat underwater for so long.

“Being an organic farmer, I am limited what I can spray. My best defense is cleaning up and removing organic plant material,” he explained.

These do-good instances should put a smile on the face of Atlantans who care about the quality of their food, the local farmers who sustainably grow it for them and, in the case of the Giving Kitchen, the people who cook it or bring it to the table.

The Farmer Fund, Giving Kitchen and Crop Mob Georgia are sunshine on a cloudy — or rainy — day. Kudos to them for making a positive impact in our food community. They deserve recognition for their efforts, and our continued support.

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