Farmers name: tenisio seanima
Method of Access: Ownership, lease, handshake
Acreage: 1/4 acre
Location: East Point, GA
Year Founded: 2011
Affordability Tools: Purchase, Lease
Farm Operation: Vegetable, Specialty Crop
Nature’s Candy Farm is an urban micro-farm business based in Atlanta, Georgia. Crops produced at this farm include a variety of seasonal vegetables and herbs in addition to value-added products, all of which are available to subscription members, aggregators, restaurant buyers, and market customers. Nature’s Candy Farms is a part of a network of urban farms striving to demonstrate and promote urban agriculture practices and create policy change for farming within cities.
Nature’s Candy Farms is led by tenisio seanima, a generational farmer and food justice advocate whose unwavering passion for creating positive change has earned him the reputation as a service-driven leader across Atlanta and beyond. He has spent over a decade in social activism, leading local policy change to advance economic and institutional opportunities for urban farmers. Seanima leads the implementation of the East Point City Agricultural Plan, the first of its kind in Georgia, commissioned by Foodwell Alliance and Atlanta Regional Commission.
Defining Urban Agriculture: “Urban agriculture includes the cultivation, processing, and distribution of agricultural products in urban and suburban areas. Community gardens, rooftop farms, hydroponic, aeroponic and aquaponic facilities, and vertical production, are all examples of urban agriculture. Tribal communities and small towns may also be included.”
(USDA Urban Agriculture Programs at a Glance, Page 2, USDA, 2022.)
Nature’s Candy Farms is an excellent representation of farming in “the big city.” The farm business is divided among three sites: two backyard parcels at residential properties, and one parcel leased from a community center merging arts and activism, the ArtsXchange Southeast Community Cultural Center. Seanima’s methods for securing farmland are mixed: land ownership through purchase, a lease agreement, and a handshake deal.
The Purchased Land
The purchased land is essentially seanima’s backyard in a planned residential community, which is governed by a homeowner’s association. Around a third of an acre, this land serves as the headquarters for Nature’s Candy Farms, where various growing practices are utilized, such as in-grown, above-ground, and traditional practices like keyhole gardening.
The Lease Agreement
The parcel is under a lease agreement and agreement of services between the farm business and community center’s management. “At first, I simply maintained the lawn space, but the owners were open to a garden and food production in efforts to save money on lawn maintenance,” seanima explains.
“The owner takes care of any financial obligations to the land and essentially has first rights of refusal to the food that’s grown. He can’t eat a whole farm so I sell the majority of it. I’m able to grow, and he collects what he wants, and that’s the exchange,” explained seanima, noting that the relationship is contingent on a verbal agreement until it is no longer feasible for the landowner or farmer.
A Savvy Farmer
As farm services are steadily growing to be more accessible to various farm operations, seanima uses state tax exempt options to conserve his farm and increase savings. The headquartered location of Nature’s Candy Farms receives a conservation tax assessment on the portion of land used for agricultural purposes and is taxed at a reduced rate, which is cheaper than the residential tax rate for the area. “And though I don’t own the other parcel of land I farm, that homeowner and landowner can take advantage of that as well,” said seanima. He also registered his farm with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) and received a farm tract number, which enabled him to access eligible USDA FSA assistance programs to support his farm operation. Accessing the assistance programs would have been difficult, if not impossible, to do without a farm tract number.
It is not uncommon for an urban agriculturist to diversify a farm business to include other offerings beyond production to meet the increased cost of living in larger metropolitan cities. When the pandemic hit, seanima decided to add a new service to his enterprise and incorporate edible landscaping offerings into his business model.
“You can plant a blueberry bush or a fruit tree that has an ornamental and edible feature to a client’s property, offering dual purpose. Along with edible landscape installation, I also offer consulting, and lawn care. I have all this equipment from weed hackers to lawn mowers, and it’s just sitting there when not in use. I’ve been able to add these services to my enterprises, and people hire Nature’s Candy Farms to come and prune their trees or cut grass, and it all still fits in the business model because all of these things are land stewardship activities. Mowing a lawn is land stewardship! These are the ways I supplement the low margins of selling food. The fact is, I’d have to grow a lot more food to sustain my lifestyle at an adequate level.”
Seanima goes on to describe how his family has grown. That changed his financial needs. “Adding another property may increase the ability for my farm to financially sustain me, but adding these enterprises still allows me to follow up on my mission to be a land steward.”
Closing the Loop: Strengthening Food Systems with a Plan
Farming in a large metropolitan city can be a challenging endeavor, particularly when agriculture is associated with rural settings, and society’s historical vision for urban growth has focused on building business and social epicenters. As an urban farmer for nearly a decade, seanima, along with many other urban farmers, has long advocated for greater support of local food production and access in Atlanta.
In the city of East Point, where seanima farms, local community-based organizations took a systems-based approach to highlight the intersections in local food systems and develop a comprehensive plan derived from a series of community gatherings, listening sessions, local tours, stakeholder engagement, and deep strategic planning. The East Point City Agriculture Plan is a multi-step guide based on priorities and solutions specific to the vision of thriving food systems that results in economic growth opportunities for the city.
“A City Agriculture Plan provides a roadmap for a community to achieve its vision of creating a vibrant and sustainable community food system over the next 5–10 years. A community food system refers to the place-based relationships between producers, processors, distributors, consumers, and postconsumer waste disposal of food. In contrast to conventional food systems, a community food system makes these ties visible and integrates them to enhance the environmental, economic, social, and nutritional health of a community and its residents.”
(East Point City Agriculture Plan, Page 7, Foodwell Alliance, ARC, 2022.)
As seanima coordinates a wood chip delivery from a city employee, he explains, “These wood chips will be used for mulch, and this saves you a trip to the landfill and benefits local growers who need mulch on a regular basis.” Seanima shares a scenario of how local policies can institute processes for municipal services like tree limb removal or composting to work in unison with urban farmers who use these materials as on-farm inputs.
Now that the plan has been in effect for over a year, seanima notes how a city agriculture plan can close the loop for food system partners to interact and find shared solutions.
“By centering a plan around an entire food system, you begin to create quality control and output that’s optimal for the food system. Now wearing the hat of a “policy guy” still fits into what I do as a farmer, because who knows how to close the loop on a broken food system except those who are intimately involved. So whether you’re a grower, chef looking for local sources, composter, or school nutrition director – you’ve got to be someone closely involved in this work to do the best planning for success.
“Planners who work in networks and have vicarious experiences with these stakeholders can go on to create more systems, but the people who are planting the stake in the ground have to be those doing this work. As a farmer, I’ve been able to solve my own problems leaning into local networks, as opposed to utilizing service providers to fix my issues. I would rather create a plan that works for me and farmers like me. For the most part, farmers have to create our own solutions.”
Urban agriculture is a growing facet of local agribusiness that merges communal visioning, public and private services and amenities, and food systems and local planning. While many cities host local and regional community-based organizations, make local policy commitments and encourage community engagement to support urban agriculture, land access presents unique challenges for urban farm business owners who must compete for land that offers proximity to marketplaces at increased land prices relative to city development. Urban farmers must continue to be nimble in navigating land acquisition, farm support services, and cost savings. Seanima’s operations provide an example for urban producers to replicate and address these challenges.
This case study authored by Renee Smith-Nickelson MFALP ’18