Preschool Farm Stand Battle Opens Doors for More Nutritious Produce in a Georgia Community

There's a second farm stand and pop-up produce for an underserved area.

preschool shopper at food stand

Hand, Heart, and Soul Project

It was almost three years ago when a preschool farm stand in Forest Park, Georgia, wouldn’t give up its battle to keep its doors open. Now, the passionate push to keep it alive has resulted in more fresh produce for the community.

Little Ones Learning Center was ordered to shut down its farm stand in the summer of 2019 due to zoning issues. But a grassroots movement that included community engagement and national coverage and support pushed the tiny stand into the limelight. There were meetings, Zoom calls, and zoning discussions until the ordinance was changed and the preschoolers were again allowed to sell their produce at the school.

Since then, the not-for-profit Hand, Heart, and Soul Project was formed to create equitable access to educational, nutritional, and other resources throughout Clayton County. The organization works with Little Lions and other early childcare sites. It runs pop-up farm stands and now has access to city land to run a produce stand.

“I feel like it was always the goal to do something more,” Wande Okunoren-Meadows, executive director of The Little Ones Learning Center and the Hand, Heart, and Soul Project, tells Treehugger. “I don’t think it was ever about winning or losing, just more to make sure the ordinance was changed so we could continue to ensure the opportunities were available not just to the center, but to the community overall.”

The organization works to provide access for children and families to nutritious food. They also work with other early childcare centers to develop holistic programs focused on health, wellness, education, and nutrition. 

Now that zoning ordinances have changed and the group has permits, it can hold pop-up farm stands at other childcare centers and at other spots throughout the city. And the city of Forest Park has agreed to provide the project space on city property to run a second farm stand.

The Unity Farm Stand and Market can travel around as a pop-up but will also eventually find a permanent home at 775 Main Street.

“It’s a major street in Forest Park. It is currently being redeveloped, revitalized, and it’s very desirable,” Okunoren-Meadows says. “It's land, not a building, and we won't have to worry about cutting the grass or maintaining it.”

The organization will team up with the city for the Unity Farm Stand’s grand opening on April 16 at Starr Park Amphitheater. Then the stand will be open to the public every Saturday except holidays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

And it will go on the road.

“That's the beauty of being able to have a pop-up farm stand. We’re able to pick it up and move it anywhere we want to,” Okunoren-Meadows says. “We can go to apartment complexes, we can go anywhere we need to make sure that we're reaching certain populations so they're not having to come to us. People who are not mobile are not having to come to one specific stand. We're able to reach them where they need to.”

The preschool's Little Lions Farm Stand is open on Wednesday afternoons.

The Preschool Farm Stand Story

shoppers at preschool farm stand

Hand, Heart, and Soul Project

At Little Ones, in addition to drawing and learning numbers and letters, kids get their hands dirty. They have a backyard garden where they plant seeds and eventually harvest and eat their own crops.

The garden originally was created for kids who needed a break to get outside and enjoy some time in nature. No one should sit inside all day, Okunoren-Meadows says. Eventually, some parents and other volunteers got involved and the backyard garden began producing carrots, beans, squash, and lots of greens.

School officials decided to sell produce to parents and neighbors twice a month. They offered the children’s crops and partnered with local farmers to supplement what was sold at the stand and also to support local growers.

Because the school is in a location where few people have the means to buy fresh produce, they offered discounts when customers paid with SNAP benefits.

The city of Forest Park shut down the stand in August 2019, saying the residential area wasn’t zoned for selling produce. And that’s when parents, the community, and fans all over the world picked up the story and rallied behind the preschoolers and their vegetables.

Produce and Gardens

Little Lions Farm Stand

Hand, Heart, and Soul Project

For the first few sales this season, the preschoolers’ crops are mainly herbs because it’s been a late growing season so far. They’ll supplement with lots of produce from local growers.

But soon, the stands will feature produce from newly obtained garden beds in the nearby city of Jonesboro. The city of Forest Park has also identified a garden that hasn’t had caretakers for several years and could become part of the project.

“So that is super exciting. We don't want to be a reseller; we’re not just going to resell fruits and vegetables. We actually want to grow our own food and sell it to the community,” Okunoren-Meadows says.

The organization hopes to find funding and then the community support to get involved.

“We would get the business community, church community, senior citizens. We would get everyone involved and ask, ‘What do you envision the community garden to look like?’ We want it to be available to everybody,” Okunoren-Meadows says. “We’ll take some of that produce and use it at the farm stands to sell to the community but we also want to have garden plots for those who want to be empowered and grow their own food.”

More Big Plans

little girl in garden

Linden Tree Photography / Little Ones Learning Center

Preschool administrators had no idea their tiny stand would get so much support when they went up against the city to keep it open.

"We cannot underestimate the power of voice and the power of the so-called underrepresented voices,” Okunoren-Meadows says. "We didn't have to go out and hire some kind of high-powered attorney to get heard. We didn't have to go out and hire some kind of super-big media blitz to get this work done. It just took a simple post us telling our story on social media, and it developed into this life of its own."

Having that support put school administrators in a position to be able to support others hoping to do similar work, which is how the nonprofit was created.

And they have big plans for what they hope will happen down the road. They'd like to build an Agricultural Education Center where kids and community members can be hands-on with nutrition and gardening.

"We would love to have a building where we're doing nutrition and ag education and then in the back of the building have a huge garden like a huge farm, really," Okunoren-Meadows says. "So what does that look like for kids to have an after-school place where they can actually grow on the land? That's our vision, to have an indoor cooking area, community kitchen area, and I know it'll manifest."