Despite a large box adorned with Christmas wrapping paper concealing what was inside, there wasn’t much surprise from those in attendance Tuesday about what would be revealed to benefit a south Macon community.
The founder of the agency receiving the “present” said he could hardly contain his excitement about the prospects of how a grant would kick into high gear plans for the first “agrihood” in Georgia by turning blighted properties into community gardens and farmland.
Inside that box was a ceremonial check for $500,000 made out to One South Community Development Corp. The agency announced Tuesday its farm-to-table initiative was selected to receive the ArtPlace America grant from among 70 national finalists.
Macon resident Danny Glover, who founded One South, said the opportunity to revitalize the neighborhood will not be taken for granted. The idea for creating an agrihood in the neighborhood located near Second Street stems from residents citing blight and lack of access to quality food as the two biggest issues, he said.
“We knew there wasn’t any other place we could find $500,000 to do the work,” Glover said. “We made sure we were diligent in our work. We made sure we didn’t leave any stone unturned.”
The plan is to also build an urban agricultural center with a commercial kitchen for cooking demonstrations, meeting spaces and a culinary arts programs in the neighborhood. The concept follows the farm-to-table movement, where an assortment of vegetables are grown in bulk primarily for other businesses and agencies, including restaurants.
The agricultural center will also include a restaurant where people will be able to pick fresh produce from the garden for their meal.
A plot of land on Bowden Street will be turned into a 5,000-square-foot community garden and more than 2 acres near Grants Chappel Alley and Second Street will be converted into farmland.
“We’re excited,” Glover said. “It’s a lot of hard work but we’re looking forward to fleshing this out over the next two years.”
Frank Austin, with the Austin Smith Center for Community Development, will help administer the funds, promote community engagement and make sure residents are not displaced from the community. Also, former Macon City Councilman Tom Ellington will serve as a liaison with the Macon-Bibb County government.
“We have some great residents that have been here a long time,” Austin said. “We want to ensure and give you a peace of mind that this policy will protect you guys as the development is being created and your community is revitalized.”
The announcement brought out various political and civic leaders, including state Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert, former Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis and former Macon City Councilman Henry Ficklin, who now serves on the Bibb County elections board. Members of One South and some neighborhood residents were among the others on hand.
Philip Tutt has become known as a master gardener in the neighborhood he’s called home for nearly 50 years. Glover said people like Tutt and Glover’s grandmother who also lived on the neighborhood have been inspirations for the project.
And on Tuesday, Tutt wasn’t shy about how his garden has fared over the years.
“Years back neighbors used to tell me ‘you look like the last one to start your garden,’ ” he said. “But it turned out to be the cream of the crop.”