How does someone with absolutely no agricultural background who also happens to be a passionate anarchist end up farming a plot of land in a gated community of Atlanta? There is only one possible answer—love.
A younger Joe Reynolds made all sorts of plans, none of which involved farming. A South Georgia native, Joe moved to Atlanta after school for a taste of city life. While working at the Brick Store Pub in Decatur, Joe met his sweetheart Judith Winfrey and the two fell in love.
Joe had become interested in food politics and economics, even taking an educational trip to a coffee farm in El Salvador. Judith was, at that time, studying linguistics at Georgia State. Realizing the practical possibilities in combining their abilities, the two hatched a plan: Joe would learn as much as he could about agriculture and Judith would become certified to teach English as a second language. Then, they would move abroad.
Years later, walking through acres of vegetables growing at Gaia Gardens in East Atlanta, Joe watches volunteers picking in the fields. “I never do this, you know, walking around and talking while there are people harvesting. It’s kind of painful for me to not be out there with them.” After a few moments, he relaxes as he considers his love for Gaia Gardens: “The longer we worked in Georgia, things started to change for me and for Judith. While I was working for Crystal Organic Farm and Judith was working for Georgia Organics, the local food movement in the city began to pick up tremendous momentum. We found ourselves enmeshed in this community. In an almost unspoken decision, we happily rooted down here. Living abroad wasn’t our dream anymore.”
Today, the duo is so enmeshed in the Atlanta sustainable agriculture scene that their names are all but synonymous with the local food movement. Joe and Judith call themselves Love is Love Farm, but Joe says this is more of a marketing tool. The pair are what many would call, “landless farmers.” Their first farming venture as Love is Love was out of the Glover Family Farm in Douglasville. However, the couple owned a house in Atlanta and decided to try urban farming so that they might be closer to home. At this point they took over operations of Gaia Gardens, a plot in Atlanta owned by East Lake Commons neighborhood.
It has been a while since his younger years as an anarchist, and Joe admits that he has learned the benefit of owning land. Without landowners like the Glovers and the renters of East Lake Commons, Love is Love would not be in operation, “I’m incredibly grateful to both the Glovers and this East Lake community. I don’t have the capital resources to buy or start this sort of operation. Because of their generosity, we can actually make a living doing this work. We have the opportunity to be successful here.”
Love is Love has done more than “just make a living.” Joe and Judith have engaged the Atlanta community in a dynamic way, feeding and educating hundreds, potentially thousands, of people in the past few years. Love is Love is supported by 115 CSA subscribers, and recent James Beard Award Winning Chef Linton Hopkins buys from them. Chef Hopkins believes in the farm so much that he has been sending his son, the fifth Linton in a line of influential Georgians, to spend time at the farm during the boy’s summer break. Joe and Judith stayed in Atlanta because of the community that they love. It is apparent that this community loves them as well.
The thing that really sets Joe and Judith apart is their determination to share this love for farming and community, in the hopes that a new generation of Atlantans might have a true understanding of stewardship. Joe encourages anyone interested in local food culture. “If you’re a young person curious about farming, get some experience. Ask lots of questions. Do research. Find mentors. Then, you can make that risky jump to the next level, remembering that you have all of these people to help. I call my mentor almost every day with a question. This doesn’t have to be a competitive movement, there’s a place for everyone in this.”
Joe points to the barn that currently houses hundreds of fresh tomatoes and laughs, “Be prepared to be successful and make some money!” He glances at the volunteers and interns kneeling on the ground as they harvest in the 95 degree heat. “This is hard work, it shouldn’t be rewardless. It shouldn’t lack financial reward. You’ll never get rich, but nonetheless, be open to success and making yourself a decent living.”
One look at Joe, wearing cut-off jeans and boots, tattoos covering his arms and legs, a scruffy beard hiding half of his face, and “farmer” might not be the first profession that comes to mind. But notice the dirt and sweat covering every inch of the farmer. A grin stretches from ear to ear when he points to an exciting new development on the farm. The longer you speak with Joe, it becomes impossible to think of him as anything other than a farmer. Undeniably, this is a man in love.
If you’d like to meet Joe and/or Judith to learn more about Love is Love Farm, check out their booth at the East Atlanta Village Farmers Market on Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Or you can learn more on their website: http://loveislovefarm.com/.