Capturing an intimate portrait of Atlanta and its residents is a dominant theme throughout Earthgang’s music. The Atlanta rap duo creates songs that don’t just simply retell the city’s history but chart a course for its future. Last year’s “Waterboyz,” which features JID and J. Cole, alludes to the hustle of Atlanta youth selling water bottles on various streets of the city: “Most likely to get money doin’ something I believe/Most likely put the city on my back. It ain’t heavy,” Earthgang member Olu raps in the song.
And, outside of the music, the group wants to continue uplifting the city’s youth.
Earthgang, in partnership with Goodr, Atlanta Public Schools and Universal Music Group, introduced the southwest Atlanta community to a new community garden at Jean Childs Young Middle School during a ceremony Thursday afternoon. The Jean Childs Young Middle School Community Garden will teach students about agriculture while offering fresh food that they can take home to their families.
“It’s the community that we’re from that sparked these ideas in us — being able to plant, being able to work with the land, loving where you’re from and loving your neighborhood — so we wanted to give the children something to be a part of and something that they can cherish and take part in,” Olu said.
Earthgang members and Atlanta natives Olu (aka Johnny Venus) and WowGr8 (aka Doctur Dot) met while attending Benjamin E. Mays High School (a school that most graduates of Young Middle School attend) where they started making music together. The duo’s sharp, funk-inspired balance of whimsical cadences and politically-themed lyricism eventually caught the attention of J.Cole, who signed them to his Dreamville Records imprint in 2017. Their major-label debut “Mirrorland” dropped in 2019. The following year, Earthgang received two Grammy nominations for best rap song (for “Down Bad”) and best rap album (for the Dreamville compilation “Revenge of the Dreamers III”).
Last year, the duo released their sophomore album “Ghetto Gods,” which earned them a BET Hip-Hop Award for best duo or group. Their awards were presented during Thursday’s ceremony and students in the crowd were allowed to hold them.
The group also unveiled a mural designed with flowers and vegetables that depicts a character, befittingly sporting an Earthgang T-shirt, watering the globe. Created by Atlanta-based visual artist Paper Frank, the mural is located in the community garden.
Plans for the garden were announced in 2021. Earthgang donated an initial $10,000 as seed funding. The group also launched a GoFundMe for the project, with a goal of raising $200,000. To date, the fundraiser has reached nearly $19,000.
Jasmine Crowe-Houston, founder and CEO of Goodr, said funds to establish the garden totaled about $100,000. She said the garden is the result of an ongoing joint effort which included additional partners like Groundworks and the Captain Planet Foundation.
Headquartered in Atlanta, Goodr is a company that uses technology to fight hunger and eliminate waste.
“It’s just a lot,” Crowe-Houston said about the process to start the garden. “You’re building something at a school. You have to get the school board’s buy-in. We had to do a land lease and create this for (many years), so that they knew it wasn’t going to be a fly-by-night thing and that we were going to be here committed to this school and these kids for years to come, so it just took a long time. Then we had to raise money, too, so that takes some time.”
The Jean Childs Young Middle School is Goodr’s first community garden. Crowe-Houston said the organization also has plans to build a grocery store inside of the school. School staff will operate the garden and work with science teachers and local community members to assist students with planting and hosting garden days.
During the event, students watered tomatoes, dill, cucumbers and more fruits and vegetables that were already planted in the garden.
“It’s really a learning garden,” Crowe-Houston said. “We need to teach kids what it’s like to be able to plant and grow your own food. ... It’s important that we teach kids not only how to eat fish but also how to catch their own fish, and it’s a very similar way with the garden.”
Ronald Garlington, principal of Young Middle School, said he felt like “a kid in the candy store” when thinking about students interacting with the garden and seeing it come to fruition.
“When you think of southwest Atlanta, you think of food deserts,” he said. “You think about fast food. You think of convenience stores, so this is big. You don’t have a lot of stuff like this in southwest Atlanta, so to have something like this is important. We can have fresh food and fresh produce and teach others to have the same thing.
Mayor Andre Dickens gave final remarks during Thursday’s event. As a city councilmember, Dickens was an early proponent of the garden.
“Atlanta is a group project,” Mayor Dickens said. “This is all about community building, being able to come out here and multi-generations being out here and working in this garden and just being able to share space together.”
Through their Earthgang Foundation, Olu and WowGr8 plan to establish more community gardens in the city. The duo will perform at the Dreamville Festival in North Carolina this weekend.
“The idea is sustainability and agriculture, which is important globally,” said WowGr8. “If you want to create an initiative, it’s best to start at home.”
BY THE NUMBERS
To establish the garden
GoFundMe raised so far
To donate: www.gofundme.com/f/earthgang-community-garden-at-young-middle-school