ALBANY — Fredando “Farmer Fredo” Jackson, executive director of Flint River Fresh, has been working to help increase access to fresh and affordable food while creating economic opportunities for southwest Georgia farmers.
These and other efforts were discussed in a report Jackson gave to the Dougherty County Commission this week.
Jackson said one way he’s achieved his goals is through community gardens, which have been created to serve as an educational tool teaching residents how to grow their own food while serving as an outdoor classroom for students. The gardens transform vacant and abandoned lots into plots where food is grown.
One of these future gardens is in a plot near Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, Jackson said.
“I am glad that is coming to fruition, no pun intended,” Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas said.
Flint River Fresh also organizes “Know Your Farmer” days at schools, and works with churches to deliver fresh produce boxes to seniors who may not have the mobility to access healthy food on their own.
Apart from offering food access to low-income populations, the gardens — the products from which are served in pop-up farm stands, school cafeterias and distributed to hunger-relief organizations — play a role in youth development. The food provides an economic engine by connecting farmers, ranchers and producers with schools, grocery stores, restaurants, breweries, institutions, caterers and individual shoppers to give farmers a viable market.
The organization has set up 75 pop-up stands and hosted eight “Grow Your Groceries” workshops at fitness centers, churches, health food stores, universities and schools. It has also built four community gardens with the Albany Recreation and Parks Department with sponsorship from the Southwest Public Health District.
Meanwhile, Flint River Fresh has assisted with 16 school gardens in Dougherty County and is installing a community farm at the Commodore Conyers College and Career Academy, impacting ninth- and 10th-graders from Dougherty, Lee, Terrell, Calhoun and Baker counties.
By giving economic opportunities, the organization has served 972 pounds of locally grown collard greens, 5,720 Satsuma oranges, 2,248 pounds of strawberries, 565 pounds of blueberries and 2,025 pounds of peaches in the Dougherty County School System. While supplying restaurants and caterers, it has distributed more than 75,000 pounds of produce to shoppers in the county.
At the same time, Flint River Fresh is devoted to land stewardship.
“We are dedicated to the stewardship of our natural resources for future generations and the exploration of conservation-driven technologies and strategic partnerships that enhance agricultural sustainability,” a presentation Jackson gave to the commission said.
This stewardship has resulted in the installation of an urban farm demonstration at the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie. The event hosts more than 75,000 attendees and 1,200 exhibitors to highlight developments in farming technology in an area that spans 100 acres.
Flint River Fresh has had a hand in the Albany State University Garden Project. The organization’s community farms, which can produce an average of 10,000 pounds of food annually, offers pre-made produce boxes filled with six to eight locally grown fruits and vegetables to families.
Youth farm stands are manned on Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays; cooking demonstrations and classes are held, and a school food pantry backpack program are all carried out through the community farms.
Commending Jackson’s efforts to turn the tide on food insecurity and the heavy lifting involved in those efforts, District 6 Commissioner Anthony Jones offered Farmer Fredo some career advice.
“When you retire, run for office,” Jones said.