When the City of Atlanta hired Mario Cambardella to be its “Director of Urban Agriculture” in 2015, it seemed like a novel idea. Indeed, it was - Cambardella became the first municipal staffer to hold this title out of any major city in the country. But speaking to Cambardella today, one has to wonder why an official post was such a novel idea in the first place.
“Food and food access...are fundamentally linked to issues such as health, equity, environmental sustainability and economic development,” explains Cambardella. On top of serving as a general “conduit” for the wide community of Atlanta’s farmers to reach municipal leadership, Cambardella holds a laundry list of crucial responsibilities: working with farmers on implementing environmentally sustainable practices; reducing costs related to site plans and permits; expanding access to farmers’ markets; assisting communities with the launch of retail markets and other food businesses; and ramping up farm-to-cafeteria programs -- all while remaining on the prowl for new and creative avenues to increase fresh food access. Examples have included fresh produce markets at metro stations, drastically discounted rides to and from supermarkets via a partnership with Lyft, the country’s largest urban food forest, and a focus on agriculture within the chamber of commerce’s IoT ATL initiative.
So perhaps it should come as no surprise that a third major American city, D.C., is now hiring for this position, after Philadelphia named Ashley Richards to the role earlier this year. Agritecture spoke with Katherine Antos, a Branch Chief at D.C.’s Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) for further insights into this growing pattern of municipal support for urban agriculture, and how it relates to local issues in the District.