The power of good soil is often overlooked, but in the garden, it can make the difference between a bumper crop of tomatoes or the bumper crop of frustration that comes with lackluster vegetative performance.
Food Well Alliance, in collaboration with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, the Atlanta Community Food Bank’s Community Gardens project, Terra Nova Compost Cooperative, Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture, Global Growers Network, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and Park Pride, designed the Healthy Soil, Healthy Community Initiative to help Atlanta’s community gardens adopt better composting practices to improve metro Atlanta’s soil.
The collaborative partners will offer a series of composting workshops through October across metro Atlanta to increase awareness of building healthy soil and help gardeners maximize productivity. Community gardens from Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties are eligible to register for the workshops, which can be completed on the Food Well Alliance’s website. Selected gardens will receive free compost, bins, soil testing and resources to improve their soil practices.
“Healthier soil is a cure for many common garden woes,” said Becky Griffin, community and school garden coordinator for UGA Extension.
Improving soil practices is an opportunity to decrease plant pests and diseases, but gardeners often neglect composting, which is a much-needed step to improving soil.
“[Gardeners] think it’s intimidating, so they shy away from it,” Griffin said. “They see the big bins; they know they have to turn it, and they know they need a mix of nitrogen and carbon sources. It just seems like too much … but once they take a basic class and see that it’s not as difficult as they thought, they are eager to try it.”
In addition to offering hands-on training, the Healthy Soil, Healthy Community workshop series will also shine a light on the secret ecosystem that is thriving underneath everyone’s feet. Soil is a living system that includes minerals, organic matter microbes, fungi, worms and more that make food production possible. In an effort to raise awareness about soil’s relationship to the health of the global population, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2015 the “International Year of Soils.”
"I work with so many gardens where they start out with soil that is compacted, poor and with very little organic matter in it," said Fred Conrad, community garden manager at the Atlanta Community Food Bank. “Compost can transform the most discouraging lot into a garden of abundance and beauty.”
For more information about UGA Extension’s community and school garden outreach program, visit blog.extension.uga.edu/communitygardening/.
For more information about the Food Well Alliance or upcoming compost workshops, visit foodwellalliance.org.
Workshops will run from August through the end of October and will be held at several locations around Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties.
(Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)