As a child growing up in Columbus, Sharayah Davis spent countless hours planting vegetables under the tutelage of her Korean grandmother who started an urban farm in her backyard.
“That woman, she can grow anything; she has had fruit trees, blueberries, vegetables, Nappa cabbages, squash, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers and sweet potatoes,” said Davis of her maternal grandmother, Hui Beesley, who lives near Fort Benning. “... To this day, the potatoes are my favorite vegetable to grow and to harvest because she would always have us dig them up for her. We would spend entire days as kids getting our hands dirty, and it was the coolest thing - like a treasure hunt.”
Now, Davis has started an urban farm of her own on a sub-acre plot of land owned by Cascade Hills Church. The venture, called “Elijah’s Farm,” bears the name of her 5-year-old son. Davis said she hopes to inspire a new generation of agricultural enthusiasts in the community. She already has a garden program at Girls Inc. of Columbus, which will soon include field trips to the farm.
“Elijah’s Farm, it started as a vision, not only for me to provide for my family and for me to get back to the roots of farming, but it’s also a way to really connect the community and show that farming on this scale can be possible within city limits,” she said. “A lot of this attributes back to my history, my heritage and my grandmother. She’s from Korea and we have generations of farmers from there.”
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Davis, a Columbus Food Oasis ambassador for Georgia Organics, said she launched the venture with the help of family, friends, Cascade Hills church members, and her employer. Her father, Councilman Glenn Davis, erected the fence and installed the pipes for the irrigation system, she said. She has an intern - Toya Tate - who relocated from Chattanooga, Tenn., to help with the project.
Davis starts the plants at a greenhouse in downtown Columbus before planting them in the ground at the farm located at 727 54th St. So far, she and her team have planted three different varieties of tomato heirlooms - black brandywine, Cherokee purple and pineapple tomatoes. They’re also growing sun gold and sweet candy cherry tomatoes, as well as Nappa cabbages, which Davis planted specifically for her grandmother.
Suzanne Girdner, Georgia Organics’ community outreach manager, said Davis has been doing the project on her own time, but the organization supports the vision. Georgia Organics recently produced a video featuring Elijah’s farm, and referred to it as the first urban farm in Columbus. In an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer, Girdner said Columbus has a rich agricultural history, and there have been other urban farms in the past. But Elijah’s Farm is the only urban farm that the organization is currently aware of in the area, she said.
Girdner said Georgia Organics recently conducted an inventory in partnership with Columbus State University and found about 14 community gardens in the city. But those projects didn’t fit the description of urban farming, which tends to have a marketplace component. She hopes Elijah’s Farm will help spark a resurgence of that kind of agriculture in Columbus to engage and empower residents to eat, cook and grow local fresh food.
“Sharayah is trying to engage folks who are ready to make a lifestyle change or they want better choices for fresh produce in their neighborhood,” she said. “And in addition to that she wants to be a grower and provide that too.”
Davis, a graduate of Brookstone high school, is currently completing a master’s in public administration at Columbus State University. She said she developed her vision for an urban farm while taking a grant writing class. She and some of her classmates decided to write a mock grant for a greenhouse at a local high school, and while doing the research she learned more about urban farming and the impact it could have on the environment, economics and health of a community. Later, she spent time at Signal Mountain farm in Tennessee learning about all aspects of the business, from seed to sale.
Now, Davis wants to use the knowledge she acquired to benefit the Columbus community.
“Elijah’s farm it’s not only a way to improve our environment, to improve our economy through jobs, internships, and through education programs,” she said. “It’s really about connectivity and the relationships we build out of it.”