Urban agriculture, food insecurity and Edwin Thomas of CJ’s Produce

The following is an excerpt from an interview for The 912 with Edwin Thomas, an urban farmer raised in Savannah, who wants to feed the residents of Cuyler-Brownsville with his CJ’s Produce farm.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity, and first published in The 912. Listen to the full interview in the July 6 edition of The Commute atomny.fm/shows/from-the-newsroom-savannah-now. It can be found on social media at CJ Product. You can subscribe to 912 on profile.savannahnow.com/newsletters/The-912/.

Raïsa Habersham: I read about you from the Black Farmers’ Network. Tell us about CJ products and where you got the idea to start an urban farm.

Edwin Thomas: Well, CJ’s Produce started out as a project between me and my dad, and I named it after my son, CJ. We started five years ago and have just planted, planted, planted. I contacted Leslie [Weaver… And I knew that she was working for the University of Georgia Extension here in Chatham County. And she fussed at me a little bit: “Why aren’t you doing this? Why aren’t you doing that?” And pretty much I was given an opportunity to till someone’s garden. I posted it on my social media. And my best friend’s mother, Miss Kim Williams, has some property in Cuyler-Brownsville. I reached back out to Leslie, and it’s been on and poppin’ since.

RH: I’m always curious when people decide to become urban farmers. Tell us about some of the fruits and veggies you till.

ET: Well, a lot of Savannah is pretty much a food desert. A food desert is basically an environment with the lack of sufficient fresh and healthy food. A lot of the grocery stores are far away for a lot of people to even be able to purchase fresh produce. And with the pandemic going on, I was growing; I couldn’t give food away. Some people have literally never tasted a fresh tomato before, and that just caught my attention. And I just ran with it. I want to sell produce locally. I want to be able to get it to people who couldn’t make it to the store, or the elderly who don’t have cars, or just to be able to have the access to be able to get fresh and healthy produce.

RH: What’s been the reaction since you’ve started addressing food insecurity?

ET:  At first it was rather slow; wasn’t too receptive. And a lot of people [were] thinking, “You’re a farmer, we live in Savannah, where do you have land to be able to do that kind of thing? And a lot of people don’t understand, farming doesn’t mean you have to have 700 acres and a mule to be able to produce. In my small plot in my mother’s garden, in two months, I produced over 100 pounds of tomatoes. So you can be an urban farmer or you can be a traditional farmer; there are a lot of different grow techniques you can do. … My family is originally from Dublin, Georgia. So it’s actually in my blood to do that sort of thing.

HR: Tell us about your recent partnership with Forsyth Farmers Market.

HEY: I work with the Forsyth Farmers’ Market, Farm Truck 912. The farm truck takes local producers and allows them to sell their produce. The Farm Truck 912 goes to poor neighborhoods, food deserts, parks in a parking lot or on a street, and they allow people to come and buy fresh produce for less than what you will likely buy in a grocery store.

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