GoATL Fund invests in the future of Atlanta’s farmers – SaportaReport

By Sydney Hulebak, impact investment manager, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta GoATL Fund

The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta’s GoATL Fund recently made a $ 1 million investment in the Working Farms Fund – an initiative of The Conservation Fund that supports the acquisition of at-risk farmland located in the Atlanta region. This investment protects farms and open spaces from development, supports the expansion of next-generation farm businesses, and scales local food supply to meet growing demand in the Atlanta metro area.

The Conservation Fund identified Atlanta as a pilot site for this program because the dynamics of urban agriculture are especially true in our metro area: demand for local, sustainably produced food is greatly outpacing supply, and farms are rapidly turning into new developments. Meanwhile, many aging farmers are retiring and younger farmers often do not have the capital nor the expertise required to acquire and manage a farm business.

The Working Farms Fund model is to purchase farmland within a 100-mile radius of the Atlanta metro and place a conservation easement on it, which permanently protects it from development and harmful environmental practices. The program then leases the land to farmers with a 10-year path to ownership, selling it to them at the end of their lease, thereby creating pathways to build up assets and wealth.

GoATL’s investment helps the Working Farms Fund work to mitigate a few negative trends currently present in the Atlanta metro, including:

  • Urban sprawl. For decades, the Atlanta metro has experienced urban sprawl, population growth and rapid land appreciation. At the end of 2021, Atlanta was the third-fastest growing metro area in the United States, making it the eighth-most populous metro in the country. This unchecked expansion coupled with an insufficient number of qualified farmers with access to capital to preserve farmland at market rate places undue pressure on farms close to the metro area.

By utilizing easements to lower the price of farmland, making it more affordable for first-generation and undercapitalized farmers, the Working Farms Fund is able to begin to create an agricultural green belt around the Atlanta metro, easing urban sprawl.

  • An aging farmer population lacking in diversity. The average age of American farmers is nearly 60, and the small farms they own and operate are rapidly disappearing to develop as they retire. Farmland acreage in the United States has decreased by over 13.62 million acres since 2014, an average loss of over 1.9 million acres per year. The majority of these losses are near urban areas, including Atlanta. In fact, in the past decade, Atlanta lost more than 25% of its farmland to developmentand is expecting even greater losses over the next 30 years.
  • Little access to organic, sustainable food sources. In addition to preserving the Atlanta farmland metro, the Working Farms Fund aims to ensure that the metro area maintains a vibrant agricultural industry with good jobs and sustainable food production practices. Furthermore, there is a robust demand in the Atlanta metro for organic and sustainable agriculture.

In the video below, Asa Ysrael, owner of Local Lands Farm, explains how this investment helps next-generation farmers like himself contribute to a diverse and resilient local food system.

GoATL is Georgia’s first diversified impact debt fund designed to achieve both a social and financial return. This innovative fund model accelerates and sustains positive community outcomes by providing cost-effective loan capital to address our region’s most critical needs. Learn more.

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