University of Georgia and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) leadership hosted nearly 40 Athens agricultural stakeholders, community members and elected officials to strategize and discuss grant opportunities for community gardens in Athens on Tuesday.

This partnership between the USDA and UGA is the result of a USDA grant to advance agricultural initiatives and support community garden production in Georgia as part of the USDA’s Food System Transformation framework. Tuesday’s event marked the first of several listening sessions to be held in communities across the state.

“We are thrilled to host our first community listening session in Athens through our partnership with the University of Georgia,” said USDA FSA Georgia State Executive Director Arthur Tripp. “Through our site visits and listening sessions, we are excited to learn more about the needs of our communities across the state of Georgia and the endless opportunities that this grant will provide for our local food systems.”

At the Athens listening session, held at the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel, Tripp was joined by University of Georgia Archway Partnership™ operations coordinator Angel Jackson, who led the session. Two additional UGA Public Service and Outreach units, the Institute of Government and the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, will also support the process through listening sessions and evaluation. Participants discussed community involvement in local gardens, food champions and the sustainability of potential investment in Athens community gardens.

USDA FSA Georgia State Executive Director Arthur Tripp shares details of the partnership at the community listening session in Athens.

“We are excited to launch this initiative with the support and partnership of USDA,” said Jennifer Frum, vice president for UGA Public Service and Outreach. “Connecting communities to resources that improve lives is at the core of our public service mission at UGA.”

The day also included a trip to a local community garden. These gardens are not only providing locally grown, healthy food to places like the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia and the Campus Kitchen at UGA program, but they are also teaching people the ecology of growing our food and its connection to our natural environment. These visits provided the USDA and UGA an opportunity to examine current food systems and community gardens and gain a greater understanding of current food insecurity issues that this grant aims to address.

The funding for the partnership is part of a $43 million program from the USDA to advance food system transformation, which includes $10.2 million in new cooperative agreements to expand compost and food waste reduction efforts and $14.2 million in new grants to support the development of urban agriculture and innovative production projects.