christa - urban harvester
Greenleaf Community Farms is a unique group of urban farms throughout Atlanta that are connected to apartment communities and provide free produce to residents. The residents also have opportunities to work on the farm in exchange for discounted monthly rent as part of their #farmtoresident program. Their mission is unlike other farms as they do not sell any of their produce. Instead, they are focused on retention of their residents in exchange for access and education related to the farm. GCF has partnered with Georgia Organics, the city of Atlanta’s Office of Resilience, and coming soon, Three Taverns (shameless plug!). Christa Leonard is the Farm Manager at Greenleaf Community Farms and our fourth installment of “The Proud”, where we highlight instrumental folks doing great things in the city of Atlanta.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities at the farm?
My role is to build farms on our multi-family residential properties as well as create programming to increase the social well-being and health of our residents. My day consists of everything from planting and weeding, to tending chickens, training residents to farm, and planning farm events.
Can you tell me about your background and where you grew up? If it wasn’t in Atlanta, what brought you to the city?
I grew up in Central Florida and originally had a background in behavioral therapy working with children with autism. I moved to Switzerland as well as NYC to work in that field, but returned to Florida needing a change. I love Florida and the beaches, but I came to Atlanta for a summer just to get away. I stayed on a goat farm and my Airbnb host showed me the city and I fell in love. Of all the cities I have lived in, Atlanta is my favorite. Life for me currently is all about new growth. I moved here as a single mom with a two-year-old, so my focus has really been navigating parenthood as well as building a new personal life for myself.
What is your background with farming and when did you first realize you had a passion for taking care of the earth and providing for others?
My farming background started 7 years ago when I went to volunteer on a farm on my 27th birthday. I had never even had a houseplant, but there was something about that community farm that resonated with me. I continued to volunteer and then eventually started to work at the farm and then a few years later I began to manage it. I love being outside and how you feel after a hard day's work. But what keeps me farming is the people. I meet so many amazing people doing amazing things and they all want to help out in some way. Those acts of altruism are what make me feel good about my job and that I am making a difference each day.
What are you most proud of in your personal life? What about your professional life?
In my personal life, I am most proud of my son and being a mother. Huck, my son, is honestly the coolest person I know. I look at him and I see so many great characteristics and you see yourself in your children. In my professional life, I am most proud of my ability to adapt, change, and create what I want. Every job I’ve had has just sort of made its way to me and I learn so much from each of them.
What does it mean to you to be a champion of your craft?
Being considered a "Champion of my craft" is a very honored statement. I measure my success by working with members of my community and feeling inspired. I am learning every day from the Earth, but more so from the people around me. Being a champion takes training and the acceptance that you will fail along the way. My community has been my teacher and from each failure, as hard as it is, I take something positive onto the next thing I set my mind to.
What parts of your job are the most rewarding? What are the most challenging?
The rewards of my job are abundant. Each week when we harvest, weigh, and deliver food to residents, I feel amazing. I get to see what they cook and they are excited about the project and that makes every hurdle worth it. The most challenging really is just staying on top of everything and learning that you can't do it all on your own. There will always be bugs, no rain, too much rain, etc. but you just have to roll with the punches. Farming is never boring.
What are your interests and hobbies outside of your career?
I am going to sound really boring, but I am truly obsessed with sitting on my porch and just hanging out with my neighbors. I live on one of our farm sites so I get to know our residents and they have become family. We congregate with a good beer, preferablyLord Grey, and just relax. Huck and I also enjoy going on little hikes and he loves to swim.
What are three of your favorite crops to grow? What are your three favorite ones to consume?
My three favorite crops to grow are winter squash, potatoes, and carrots...they are also my favorite to eat!
What’s a crop that grows really well in GA that is underrepresented and/or misunderstood?
To be honest, everything grows well here! It's amazing! Coming from Florida I was growing in sand and battling major pest and disease pressure. Here, we have that beautiful clay soil and things just flourish. The only misunderstanding I think that happens is people can get tied up on timing and planting schedules. Florida's growing season is opposite, so when I came here I just had to wing it. People would say "Oh it's too late for that", but then I would get this amazing crop. I like to push the limits a little.
What is something you wish could grow in GA but the climate isn’t right for it?
Citrus has been the main crop that I miss and doesn't necessarily do well here.
What’s a vegetable/herb/fruit that is easy enough to maintain for everyone to grow at their home?
Rosemary goes crazy once you put it in the ground and I see it everywhere here. It is low maintenance and honestly just wants you to leave it be.
What advice do you have for the novice home farmer?
It all starts with great soil. Also, there are so many resources in Atlanta. Go volunteer and get your hands dirty, that's how you will learn.
What do you love about Atlanta? What would you like to see change?
I love all of the urban agriculture in Atlanta. There are so many amazing farms and farmers right here in the city. We also have amazing culture and diversity. It's a big city with southern charm, my perfect combo. People are friendly, everything is at our fingertips, and you meet awesome people every day that enjoy conversation just as much as you do. I don't know that I have anything I would change really, I don't think I have been here long enough to find any faults.
What is something that gets you rowdy?
I am a true farm geek, so I get really rowdy about a great harvest and my chickens. The farms make me giddy.
What makes you proud?
My son makes me proud. He's learning every day, but he just seems like an old soul. He's never met a stranger and he is a rough tumble kid that is always covered in dirt. He loves to be outside and I could watch him explore all day. He is my sidekick.
What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
I think people are always shocked when I say I used to wear heels to work every day and I never had a houseplant. I tell people that though so they know if I can do this, so can you.