ioby was founded in 2008 in order to make it easier for local leaders to gain the funding, knowledge, and resources needed to make positive change on a local level. For the past ten years we've worked alongside more than 1,600 passionate, committed community leaders and have watched as small projects have turned into larger initiatives and collaborations have become movements.

We want to take a look back at the past ten years, and tell some of our favorite stories of positive neighborhood change. We want to know: what kind of things can start with a conversation, a neighborhood meeting, a few dollars raised?

For the next ten months, we'll be checking in with leaders nationwide, past and present, and rolling these stories out. Thanks for reading!

Danny Glover Macon Georgia Agrihood

3. Georgia's First Agrihood

Macon, GA, 2017-Present

Mr. Oliver lives down the street from where Danny Glover, who leads One South Community Development Corporation, grew up in South Macon, Georgia. “Funny story, we don’t have sidewalks consistently throughout the neighborhood,” Danny says. “So when I was 10 or 11, Mr. Oliver got tired of waiting and he was like, ‘Shoot, I'm not going to wait for the city to pave my sidewalk,’ and the man bought the asphalt and he paved his own sidewalk.”

That get-it-done attitude is pretty typical for South Macon, a neighborhood Danny describes as working-poor and working-middle class. Neighbors there have mostly lived in the community for decades, and are deeply connected to one another. Growing up, he remembers lush gardens lining the block where residents grew and shared much of own produce.

“My Grandmother grew everything but her specialty was tomatoes, onions, and butter beans,” Danny said. “Ms. Jones down the street, her primary crop was peppers. If she was picking collard greens one night, and she wanted tomatoes and onions she would ask my grandmother if she could have some from her garden. Obviously, she wasn’t the one picking it–she would send me, Danny boy, to get whatever was needed. And then my grandmother would tell me to ask Ms. Jones for some peppers because she wanted to make a pepper sauce.”

Today, Danny still knows most of his neighbors. But many of the older residents have passed on, leaving behind property that their families no longer want. And there aren’t enough people moving in to replace them. You can walk past vacant lots and see where the long-gone gardens once were, and perhaps imagine the vibrance of the empty houses that were once homes. In their place are boarded up buildings that have become a danger zone for kids. 

For the folks who still call the neighborhood home, healthy food is hard to come by. He can name all of the places to get food now in the neighborhood: "Churches Chicken, Popeyes Chicken, Long John Silver's, McDonald's, Burger King, Krystal, and Sonic. Those are literally all the restaurants in the neighborhood.” He quickly corrected himself. “Well, I left out two hot wing places, two fried fish places, and three soul food joints.” The closest grocery store is twenty minutes away, much longer if you have to take the bus, as many do. It’s a long trek for a community where the median age is 71.

South Macon, once full gardens and fresh food, is now a food desert. In a neighborhood that is predominantly Black, it’s important to note the underlying systemic racism that also conspired to produce the food desert, or more precisely, to borrow a term from noted food justice activist Karen Washington, food apartheid.

But the community wants to revive that tradition of agriculture and resilience. “People want to get back to that old community spirit,” Danny says. “As I talk to people, that’s one recurring topic. You hear a lot of, ‘I remember growing up at the second street Boys and Girls Club and we had this and this,’ and people want to get back to that real community.” 

So he gathered his neighbors, linked up with other organizations committed to the neighborhood, and launched the One South Community Development Corporation (One South CDC), aiming to create Georgia’s first agrihood. The idea of an agrihood is to turn vacant land and blighted property into productive agricultural land, threaded into the residential neighborhood. Residents would help care for the gardens, and have a space to gather and connect with one another–all while producing enough fresh produce for everyone in the community, hosting health and wellness classes, an open air farm-to-fork restaurant, and affordable housing.


Macon Georgia Agrihood
[One South CDC organized a series murals, celebrating neighbors and what they loved about the community. A key part of the agrihood is building community, and ensuring longtime residents aren't displaced]
 

Sustainable Food Security

“It is a reality in Macon, Georgia, there are neighborhoods that have been gentrified. A lot of people in my neighborhood had family members who were connected to those gentrified neighborhoods,” Danny says. “My family originated from Fort Hill which is in East Macon. Fort Hill is now Mill Hill and it’s now an arts village. No one who’s traditionally from that neighborhood has stayed there.”

 

That isn’t how One South CDC envisions their agrihood. For one, it envisions affordable housing as an important component of the project. But for another, its main interests are the residents who are already there.

 

“People are tired of me,” Danny laughs. “They say, ‘When are those damn things going to be built? I’m ready to pick a tomato.’ It could be totally different. It could be like, ‘Who are these people in the neighborhood? Who are these white people you’re bringing here?”’ It could be so different and I’m happy that they’re comfortable with it.”

 

The suspicion of outsiders is a familiar feeling to many other communities that face pressure of gentrification. Coupled with a history of quick-win, but unsustainable, programs brought from the outside, it would risk dousing the agrihood idea if it were done by anyone else. But the crucial difference with One South CDC is its deep roots in the community, and the shared control the community has in its development.

 

“I’ve seen projects, in Macon particularly, that were founded to deal with the [food] desert situation and they stayed around a year or two, then state funding changed and they had to leave. Veggie Wagon was funded through a community health organization, and they didn’t decimate the food desert problem but they helped. But they just didn’t have the funding to continue the work so they had to stop.” The Agrihood seeks to turn that on its head, and place a continuous, sustainable source of food in the hands of residents–to enjoy, but also to care for. As a result the community has been front and center in the planning of the garden and even in putting the first seeds in the ground.

 

[Breaking ground on the ioby funded garden with neighbors in 2017.]
 

To move quickly, crowdfund

Bringing an urban agrihood to life is no small feat, and requires lots of resources. So One South CDC applied for a grant from Art Place America, a national nonprofit, for $500,000 to get their agrihood started. But they wouldn’t know for about a year if they had won the grant. "Instead of waiting we said, ‘If we don't get it, that’s cool no worries, screw it. Let’s just start,’ Danny recalls. "We asked ourselves, ‘What piece can we start, what can we break off now.’" So they turned to ioby to crowdfund their very first project: The 681 Bowden St. Property

The Bowden property was a mess–it was an abandoned, burned down house that had turned into a conduit for drugs. Turning it around would be a small step towards their agrihood, but a huge symbolic victory. “This place was pivotal, getting started and showing the neighbors that, 'Hey, we don't have the grant yet, but we’re getting started,’” Danny said.

Before starting their campaign, Danny connected with Rebecca Hutchinson, who was Site Director of Soulsville, USA and a many-time ioby project leader herself. Though she was in Memphis, Tennessee, Danny saw that their work wasn’t all that different; both were working with their neighbors to tap into their communities’ assets and bring to life a distressed neighborhood. They linked up as part of ioby’s Action Corps, and she provided his team with advice and support as they planned their agrihood and campaign.

Then, they took advantage of one of ioby’s biggest strengths–timely funding led by leaders’ community. “With the funds we raised with ioby, we were able to start a phase of the project and show community members and funders that we're not going to wait for the big magical grant, we're going to roll our sleeves up and get to it." They raised over $3,500, and then gathered the neighborhood to start clearing land and planting seeds. It was small, but they set the tone: South Macon meant business.


[A rendering of the agrihood's design.]

Not long after, they received word that they had received the $500,000 grant. “It made us feel good, that we weren’t forgotten in the grand scheme of things in the future of Macon,” says Danny. With the money, they were able to take the next step from their ioby funded project. They hired designers to map out the specifics of the agrihood, and start to plan for large scale construction.

Even with the grant, though, Danny said that crowdfunding still has a role to play in the agrihood's future. They want to bring back a garden that a beloved former principal tended, and name it after her: The Vivienne B. Hatcher Garden of Success. As an educator, and like her neighbors, she had tended a garden and used it to help teach her students. "She was probably one of the most prolific principals in the area and she was well known in the neighborhood. We thought, we want to bring this back. It's going to cost us around $7,500 to do it so we're crowdfunding. We learned a lot from the last time."

Realizing their dreams of an agrihood will take a lot of effort, and likely a lot of money. But Danny and his team are determined--if they don't do it, who will? The municipal government released a plan recently to revitalize a commercial corridor, but their plans not only bypass South Macon, One South CDC is worried that the city's designs will isolate the community even more. It lends even more urgency to the agrihood.

But One South CDC realized early on that small actions have a big impact. They help build the momentum necessary to tackle bigger and bigger projects. Take it from Danny: “I’m no professional community developer, I didn’t go to school for urban planning and design. I have farming skills but I’m not a farmer by trade but I’m doing it and learning. But you know, it can happen. It is happening.”

 

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