This week has been a bit of a whirlwind. For someone who is happily content to exist within a 3-mile radius, I have traveled outside my usual stomping grounds on more than one occasion in the last seven days.
And I’m exhausted.
But also enlightened and inspired.
On September 20, I had the privilege of attending a communal dinner at the Metro Atlanta Urban Garden. Sponsored by Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi’s Giving through Growing program, members of the Farm’s staff welcomed community members to dine with them in celebration of the amazing work being done there.
Tucked away along a busy stretch of urban road in College Park, GA is this almost-five-acre working farm, complete with a Victorian-era farm house, caretaker’s cottage and original red barn, which serves as the support for their lovely greenhouse made from reclaimed windows. They are certified naturally grown, and they produce all of their own soil and compost on site. The farm is situated on a 300-foot deep well, from which they draw all of the water for irrigation. In the midst of a concrete jungle, there is this beautiful agricultural oasis. It’s like a different time and place.
This is Bobby Wilson , President of the American Community Gardening Association, and co-founder of the Metro Atlanta Urban Farm. He was kind enough to give us a tour, and teach us a thing or two about community gardens and what a true gift they are to the people who have the opportunity to be involved with them. His passion for his work was evident as he talked about the therapeutic benefits of gardening, the way it brings people together, and the joy of reaping the fruits of your labor month after month.
In this current position, as well as in a former role as the Program Director for The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension/Atlanta Urban Gardening Program, Bobby has offered gardening instruction and support to some three hundred gardens located at public housing complexes, shelters, schools, churches and elder care facilities in metro Atlanta. He has also been instrumental in securing the partnership with Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, which resulted in an $8000 grant that allowed them to double the size of their community garden and install a drip irrigation system. It has also allowed them to donate a portion of the food grown in the community garden to the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
Candice Kumai serves as the National Ambassador for Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi’s Giving through Growing program. She was in attendance on Thursday, cooking up good things from the garden and working with the representatives from Mondavi to promote the good work being done at community gardens all around the country. According to the Giving through Growing website:
Beyond supporting our own winery garden which was planted to produce fruits and vegetables for the Stockton San Joaquin Emergency Food Bank, Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi has granted $8,000 to five other gardens across the U.S. to undertake whatever is needed to produce more food –whether that’s building additional planter beds, improving watering systems, recruiting volunteers, or buying more fruit trees and vegetable seeds. All of the additional produce raised through this project will be donated to local food banks.
It was a great party, celebrating a great program, and I felt so privileged to have been invited to attend. People who work in the garden, people who benefit from the garden and people who support the garden all came together to celebrate and dine together. It was a true testament to the role that gardens can play in benefiting and growing a community. And knowing that a portion of the evening’s dinner was grown right on the property made it even more special.
On Sunday, I introduced a friend of mine to one of my favorite places to shop for produce, outside of my own garden or my local farmer’s market (which is, sadly, closed for the season). For people in the Atlanta area, Your Dekalb Farmer’s Market is a great affordable alternative for fresh, local (sometimes, sometimes not so local) produce and meats. While I was there, I picked up some sweet white corn, tiny pencil-thin asparagus (which I realize is out of season here, but I just can’t resist those tender green stalks when I see them all lined up. Even if they came all the way from Peru), and some wild-caught Georgia shrimp. I still had some stone-ground grits in my freezer from Rockin’ S Farms, so I thought a Georgia shrimp and grits dish would be nice. I made a quick sauce using some of the Woodbridge Chardonnay that I received as a gift at the Farm celebration the other night.
Shrimp and Grits with Bacon, Corn, Asparagus and Chardonnay
prep time: 15 minutes
cook time: 15 minutes
- 2 slices thick-cut bacon
- 1 lb. wild-caught Georgia shrimp, peeled and de-veined
- 2 ears corn, kernels cut from cob
- 1/2 small red onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces (you could easily sub some swiss chard or kale here if you want to keep this truly seasonal).
- 3 Tablespoons butter
- 1 1/2 cups stone ground grits, cooked according to package directions
- 2 oz. Manchego cheese, shredded
- 1 cup chardonnay, divided
- salt and pepper to taste
- Begin by cooking the bacon over medium-low heat, allowing the fat to cook out and the bacon to crisp up slowly.
- Remove the bacon from the pan, and pour the fat off into a heat-proof container. Crumble the bacon and set aside.
- Add a tablespoon of the bacon fat back to the pan, along with a tablespoon of butter.
- Increase the heat to medium and add the diced onion. Saute until translucent.
- Add the corn and the minced garlic. Saute until corn starts to brown slightly.
- Pour 1/2 a cup of chardonnay into the pan and add a tablespoon of butter, whisking to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Remove from heat and add the asparagus. Cover and set aside – the asparagus will cook in the residual steam.
- Cook the grits according the package instructions (I do mine in liberally salted water, but you could also use chicken or vegetable stock). At the end of the cooking time, remove from heat and add a tablespoon of butter and the manchego cheese.
- Heat an iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of the reserved bacon grease. Season the cleaned shrimp with salt and pepper. Cook in batches, approximately 1 1/2 minutes per side. Deglaze the pan with the remaining chardonnay and add the shrimp back in.
- To serve, place about a cup of the cooked grits in the bottom of a bowl, then spoon the corn and asparagus mixture over the top, then place the shrimp on top of that. Garnish with crumbled bacon and additional manchego cheese if desired.
If you have a chance, I encourage you to visit the Metro Atlanta Urban Farm, or another community garden in your area. There’s a community garden finder tool on the Giving through Growing website. I think you’ll be surprised just how many of these communal gardens there are. There may even be one in your neighborhood. Get involved, and plant a row to donate to your local food pantry. If you’re interested in starting a community garden, Bobby and the folks at the American Community Gardening Association can help with that, too.