Speed Reads

It wasn't all bad

A free food forest has transformed this Atlanta neighborhood

An abandoned lot in southeast Atlanta is now a vibrant free food forest, where neighborhood residents can learn about healthy eating while enjoying fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

The food forest spans 7.1 acres, with 2,500 edible and medicinal plants. The land was originally used by pecan farmers, and then rezoned for townhouses. When the property entered foreclosure, the Conservation Fund bought it, and with grant money and help from other organizations, it was transformed into the Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill, the nation's largest free food forest.

The forest has nut trees, fruit trees, berry bushes, vegetables, and herbs, grown in a way that mimics nature, certified arborist Michael McCord said. McCord helps manage the forest, and told CNN everything in the space is "a teachable moment, whether it be trees, trails, bees or vegetables. That's what's most important to me — that we're raising awareness about sustainability and agriculture."

The city-owned and managed forest is in the Browns Mill neighborhood, a food desert where the closest grocery store is 30 minutes away by bus and 1 in 3 residents lives below the poverty line. More than 1,000 volunteers help keep the forest up and running by planting, watering, and harvesting crops. People are asked to only take as much food as needed, to ensure no one goes without. "It's really a park for everyone," Atlanta councilwoman Carla Smith told CNN. "Every time I go, there's a community there who respects and appreciates the fresh healthy foods." Watch the video below to get a look at the forest, pre-pandemic. Catherine Garcia