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.
PHOTO CREDITS: Rob Cardillo