Housed in South Bronx’s Community School 55, the nonprofit is rooted in the belief that healthy students help drive healthy schools, and healthy schools become the heart of a healthy community. This vision resonates with other educators, and GBM has become one of the U.S.’s leading organizations inspiring children to grow vegetables and eat healthier while also giving them pathways for success in and out of the classroom.
Whole Kids Foundation is by its nature a collaborative organization. We work to amplify efforts that directly connect kids (and their communities) with the roots of their food, spark their curiosity and encourage healthier food choices. The goal of spotlight stories like this is to celebrate the successes of innovative partners and inspire similar opportunities.
To talk about Old Rucker Farm in Alpharetta, Georgia is to tell a story about a city returning to its roots to collaboratively grow food and community together.
For about 150 years, Alpharetta was a small community with an agrarian history dating back to the 1830s when settlers were seeking fertile farmland, community and new prospects. By the early 1980’s however, it was rapidly and vibrantly growing, attracting hundreds of tech-focused companies. Today, it is considered an extension of the greater Atlanta area and has been dubbed the Technology City of the South. Despite the city’s growth, the desire to connect the community through agriculture was not lost. In fact, it started to flourish into something incredible in the past few years.
Take a tour of the farm and see how a property with knee-high weeds and a couple of apple trees has grown into a community-centered, educational, organic farm that provides food, classes, gardening opportunities, and a creative learning space.
Meet Old Rucker Farm
In 2014, the Whole Foods Market South Regional Office and Whole Kids Foundation established the Whole Kids Foundation Educational Farm in the regional office’s parking lot. The two organizations had worked with the city of Alpharetta since the initial farm permitting, so when it was time to close the farm, it made sense to offer it to the city and keep it in the community. The city accepted, and Whole Foods Market and Whole Kids Foundation donated all the materials, equipment, a greenhouse and even the soil (in what is jokingly referred to as “a farm in a box”!) to the city of Alpharetta. With that donation, the Alpharetta Recreation, Parks & Cultural Services Department’s Community Agriculture Program was born with the support and guidance from numerous residents and community organizations.
The Community Agriculture Program’s mission is to model and inspire the stewardship of natural resources through the use of sustainable practices while connecting the community through growing food and nature-based education. During the past few years, that mission has come to fruition.
The city of Alpharetta bought Old Rucker Park, formerly a family-owned tree farm, and since 2018, it has developed 2.5 acres of the land into Old Rucker Farm.
Growing Something Good Together
Operated by the city and guided by the community, Old Rucker Farm’s success continues to be the result of collaborative efforts.
Today, the farm includes a quarter-acre organic vegetable and fruit garden, community garden plots, a Grow-A-Row garden, a poultry palace and soil factory, a pollinator garden, and an outdoor classroom.
The Alpharetta Recreation, Parks & Cultural Services Department credits the community for making this possible. “From the beginning, this was a community-driven, community-led effort,” explains Amanda Musilli. “These are people who are dedicated to building up their community for the greater good.”
"Parks departments typically run baseball and gymnastics programs and maybe a pool but to run an organic farm is really very unique."
Old Rucker Farm believes everyone should have access to fresh produce, so their three interdependent tenets of education, production and donation are the underpinnings of everything they do. Here’s how it looks:
Education. The farm was created as an educational space for the Alpharetta community to reconnect a new generation with organic agriculture. It focuses on both agricultural- and environmental-based education and offers numerous opportunities to learn about both. The land also serves as an outdoor classroom to a local high school chapter of the National FFA Organization.
The curriculum covered in community workshops and classes encompasses a wide range of local interests from winter gardening, composting with worms, and food preservation methods to poultry workshops and bat conservation. The farm also teaches by way of demonstration with their water reclamation and re-circulation program, soil factory and poultry palace, and pollinator garden.
Production. The farm harvests a wide variety from season to season including apples, peaches, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, squash, beans, peppers, chard, garlic, honey, flowers, and more. And there are plenty people working the farm. In addition to the high school students and farm volunteers, there are several annual membership programs too.
Through the Annual Community Garden Membership Program, members rent plots for a year to grow their own food within 37 raised beds. Membership includes free resources like classes, one-on-one consultations, and seeds and seedling plants. (The Community Agriculture Program has also established home garden memberships for those who garden at home instead and includes the same benefits as community gardeners.)
The farm’s Grow-a-Row Program was launched to meet the sharp increase in demand on the local food bank partner during the early stages of the Pandemic. Old Rucker Farm added seven 80-foot long rows, which added a 50% increase to their production field. Nearly 70 community members signed up to adopt a row, and 100% of the harvest is given to the food bank.
The farm has also created an Annual Cut Flower Membership, which is designed to help members grow a thriving cut flower garden at home or in a plot at the farm.
Donation. The city of Alpharetta does not sell the produce or honey grown at Old Rucker Farm. During the school year, the produce from the educational garden goes to the ag-business high school students who grow, harvest and then sell the produce (and honey) as part of their class. The funds go to a college scholarship account. Then, during the summer months, all the produce is donated to a local food pantry.
This is just the beginning of Alpharetta’s Community Agriculture Program. The program has committed to evolving over time, striving to best serve and meet the needs of the entire community. As the city continues to develop partnerships and programs based on residents' feedback, so too will the farm.
Amanda and the team at the farm are exploring a second greenhouse, expanding the orchard, as well as developing summer youth programs, a local grower incubator program, and opportunities for adaptive learners.
Partners in Thought and Action
At Whole Kids Foundation, the possibilities that Old Rucker Farm and the city of Alpharetta demonstrate truly excite us. Not every school can have a garden on its campus, but community farms and gardens like this can serve many school children and their families. The city of Alpharetta is successfully modeling how city governments can work with local residents to grow a healthier community, together. From here, so much is possible.
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