Campus News Georgia Impact

New partnership to help grow local agriculture, economy in Fulton County

A diverse agricultural hub is thriving just minutes from downtown Atlanta in the area surrounding the city of Chattahoochee Hills. To help with the growth, UGA Extension recently developed a new position for a Fulton County agriculture and natural resources agent.

On Oct. 1, Todd Leeson started work under a collaborative funding agreement between UGA, UGA Extension and the Chattahoochee Hill Country Conservancy-the first of its kind for the university. The joint program’s goal is to return sustainable agriculture to a good portion of the locally protected green space-an area where 70 percent of the community’s 35,000 acres is to be preserved from commercial and residential growth-and to demonstrate the many levels of economic development that can be derived from local food production.

“We are excited to have Todd help us execute the vision of Chattahoochee Hills, to create programs for farm interns to move onto farms to rent or own and establish an equipment co-op and mentoring program to help new farmers become established in the area and to support our existing farming base’s economic viability,” said Tom Reed, mayor of Chattahoochee Hills. “Innovative processing and distribution systems are other concepts we will investigate.”

Leeson holds a doctorate in plant medicine from the University of Florida. A veteran of Kentucky horse farms, commercial forestry operations and sustainable vegetable production, he will use his wide-ranging background to serve Chattahoochee Hills, which was incorporated in 2007 and is one of the last undeveloped and rural areas located within 30 minutes of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

“We try to fit our county agents to the communities where they’ll be working and the need is there,” said Sheldon Hammond, agriculture and natural resources program development coordinator for UGA Extension’s northwest district. “Todd’s diverse experiences make him a good fit for south Fulton. He has the personality and the experience to work with a diverse group of clientele-from sustainable farming operations and traditional cattle producers to home gardeners.”

Down the street from Leeson’s Chattahoochee Hills office in the Serenbe stables is Serenbe Farms, which produces 350 varieties of organic fruit, vegetables, herbs, flowers and mushrooms each season. Serenbe, a 1,000-acre sustainable community, has been recognized as a national model for the future of balanced development in the U.S.

Other farms in Chattahoochee Hills include Many Fold Farms, a sheep’s milk dairy; Planted Rock Farm, a sustainable farm that cultivates certified naturally grown vegetables; Foxbrier Farms, an organic blueberry operation; and Fairywood Thicket, which produces local and wild harvest jams and jellies.