Growing Kids and Community on an Atlanta Urban Farm and Garden

Nine years ago, Bobby Wilson retired from the University of Georgia (UGA) Cooperative Extension. While the norm at this time of your life is to dream of relaxation, staycations and travel, Bobby had a different idea.   He used his retirement funds to purchase a 5-acre plot in downtown Atlanta, a decision supported by his wife, Margaret, and his family.

He called it the Metro Atlanta Urban Farm, and it’s now the headquarters of The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA), which Bobby was a leader and past president.

While at UGA as a Cooperative Extension Agent, he worked with underserved area residents in urban areas. One of his favorite initiatives involved working with seniors, many who were scared to venture outside in their neighborhoods. He used the garden to get the seniors outside and engaged in creating urban garden plots. In the housing projects he visited, he became known as the ‘garden man’ and was left alone.

“Retire?,’ says Bobby with a laugh, “I never thought of retiring and now I can work without getting bogged down in paperwork. Teaching underserved folks how to grow food has always been more than just about growing vegetables – you’re growing people no matter what their age.”

“We use our farm as a teaching tool and an empowerment zone. We want to give kids and people of all ages a sense of their worth and what they can do and that by focusing on something they can accomplish a lot for themselves and others,” continued Bobby.

So what kind of dividends has his retirement plan yielded?   Here’s a partial list:

  • 300 to 400 homeless are fed per month with produce from the farm through the Atlanta Union Mission
  • Site visits to churches and other nonprofits to help them identify garden leaders and sites to grow their own food with guidance from farm experts
  • Created the Metro Atlanta Urban Garden Leadership association as an opportunity to get urban gardeners together for gardening know-how, leadership, networking and problem-solving
  • 5,000 elementary school age kids per year visit the farm on fields trips to better understand the relationship between their food and the soil
  • Community service option for juvenile offenders. He’s now hired two of the kids who came from that program, as they’re not just working in the garden, but learning to cook, how to engage with others who may have different viewpoints and the value of teamwork
  • 500 children visit the farm’s seasonal festivals. They bring policeman to the event so children can meet and engage with the police in a friendly and safe space.

Bobby’s an example of how wealth should be measured – how you give back, engage with community and create meaningful change.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Bobby for about 20 years as an ACGA Board member and also had the opportunity to visit the farm last September at a Garden Writers Association conference.

All of us here at KidsGardening believe that every child should have the opportunity to learn through the garden and Bobby, Cathy, and their team only reaffirm our determination and passion for what we do. Learn more about the impact of getting more kids learning through the garden


You’ll never look at your milk cartons the same again!

Maree Gaetani – Director of Partnerships & Community Relations

Did you know that with the right combination of ingenuity, inspiration and collaboration, an empty milk or juice carton can be transformed into gardening magic?  Can you imagine using empty cartons to create a green entryway, a wall garden or a model of the earth with a sea of green and land of blue?

Teachers and students across the U.S. involved with Evergreen Packaging’s Carton 2 Garden contest, are upcycling and reusing empty cartons to make garden creations that teach math, science, arts, and more! These projects are also about empowerment, teamwork and community building, all while creating a new generation of earth stewards.

I was amazed by the creativity of last year’s winners. Here’s some ideas from 2015 to inspire you to join in on the fun for the 2016 Carton 2 Garden Contest:


College, Career and Technology Academy (CCTA)
Secret Garden Oasis   
Pharr, Texas
# of Cartons: 1,871
CCTA serves students who are off track or who have dropped out and are close to high school graduation.  Their school is located in a former big box store, with no opportunities for landscaping or green space.
This didn’t stop them when put to the challenge of building their garden indoors.  Their secret garden and wall plantings used a multitude of recycled products and created a sense of pride, ownership and uniqueness for the school.  If I saw this in a school entryway, I’d want to learn more about the kids inside.


Lincoln Elementary School
Lincoln’s Buzz Inn
Madison, Wisconsin
# of Cartons:  952

C2G_RegionalWinners_GreatLakes-LincolnBuzzIn-1Buzz Inn? I love this project just for the name! Lincoln Elementary’s 400 students partnered with a local nature center to create a bee house with the cartons. The Buzz Inn inspired a pollinator garden focusing on bees and the phenology of the Monarch butterfly.  The students can now tell you that phenology is the study of how plants and animals have life cycle events that seemingly occur like clockwork every year such as the metamorphosis of a butterfly.  They studied the changes in the plants and pollinators that live in their garden throughout the year, and gained an understanding of how climate cues these life cycles.


Wallenpaupack South Elementary School
Farm to Table
Newfoundland, PA
# of Cartons:  652

C2G_NationalWinners-FarmtoTable-1This school project started simply, using empty milk or juice cartons in the way we usually think of using them, as containers for seed starting. Motivated by the Carton 2 Garden Contest, teacher Liza Conklin helped students in grades K-5 expand the project and exceed initial expectations.

The teachers incorporated the plants into math and science, and the kids were motivated to create posters and lessons about the plants to teach their peers. They visited a food pantry and then decided to grow extra food to donate. They wanted to learn more about gardening so they went global and skyped from the New York Botanical Garden to a farm in Kenya. Their Carton 2 Garden project, designed to represent a model Earth, involved  270 students throughout the school.  

This project demonstrated how school gardening can teach the whole child, one of our tenets here at  These students learned about the natural world, teamwork, healthy food, science, and math.  They tried nutritious foods that some may never have been willing to sample until they grew it themselves.  They were also empowered by being able help their community by growing food for those in need.

2016 Carton 2 Garden Contest

Hopefully you can see that the possibilities are endless and the projects are easily tied to existing curriculum. Entries are due April 13, 2016.  Awards include a $5,000 Grand Prize Winner, 3 $2,500 winners and 10 $1,000 recipients. Learn more about how your school or youth group can enter the 2016 Carton 2 Garden Contest.