Atlanta Tackles Food Deserts with A Director of Urban Agriculture

As the City of Atlanta’s first director of urban agriculture, Mario Cambardella is responsible for all aspects related to urban agriculture, including agricultural policy development. He cultivates partnerships with local non-profits like Truly Living Well and also assists individuals and organizations starting their own urban agriculture projects.

“Urban agriculture is relatively new to this generation of constituents, so having a point person for all these different issues is a much-needed service,” he says. “People have been asking for help getting through the process. I like to think I’m creating the most efficient means to get that community garden growing as fast as it can.”

One of Cambardella’s projects includes helping Georgia Power explore the idea of using the land under power-line easements for high-level urban agriculture and developing a potential food forest in southeast Atlanta on the site of a former farm now surrounded by urban development. Another is to transform Atlanta’s urban food deserts by bringing local, healthy food within a half-mile of 75 percent of all residents by 2020. “I have to show up everyday and give 110 percent,” says Cambardella. “I have to be looking toward 2020. That’s a goal worthy of working toward.”

According to the USDA report ‘Hunger in America 2014’, nearly 2 million Georgia residents, including about 500,000 children, live in food deserts. Some experts say there is a direct correlation between food deserts and the state’s high rates of obesity and chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and cancers. Stroke and heart disease are among the top three leading causes of death in Georgia, accounting for nearly one-third of all deaths in the state.