DeKalb breaks ground on $1.4M ‘community youth farm’

DeKalb County officials broke ground Monday on a new, $1.4 million “community youth farm,” a space where young people will be able to learn about growing fruits and vegetables, healthy living and entrepreneurship.

The farm — known as EMBARC, or “Education, Market, Botanicals, Agriculture and Recreational Center” — will go up on about 50 acres near Lithonia, at the former site of the Bransby Outdoor YMCA at Rock Chapel. It’s the brainchild of county Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson, who attended the recent groundbreaking ceremony in a fashionable set of overalls and a headband adorned with (presumably) fake berries.

“It’s time we give our youth something meaningful,” Cochran-Johnson said. “It’s time we give them resources so that we are investing in our greatest asset.”

The site’s master plan was developed by 13 graduate students from the architecture program at Georgia Tech.

ExploreWhat's next for Stonecrest after reports of misspent relief money?

The plan includes a state-of-the-art greenhouse that will include 164 raised garden beds and incorporate methods like aquaponics and hydroponics. Plans also call for a country store, a hen house, compost stations, and an “interactive bee and honey station.”

In additions to areas designated for youth entrepreneurship and leadership programs, the property will also offer trails and other activities like zip-lining, rock climbing and kayaking. The farm will also be home to DeKalb’s largest wheelchair-accessible swimming pool and a 275-seat amphitheater, Cochran-Johnson said.

“The dream is now a vision,” said Tiffany Bouquet, one of the graduate students involved in the planning. “It has direction. And with time it will become an asset to the community.”

Total buildout costs for the project are estimated at $1.4 million. Initial funding consists of $98,500 from Cochran-Johnson’s district discretionary funds; more than $600,000 from the county; and $225,500 from the its hotel-motel tax fund.

Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson — whose district also includes the area — said Monday that she would also be allocating $100,000 of her own discretionary funds toward the project.

The first phase of construction and renovations could be finished by October, officials said.

“Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson is a visionary, spirit-filled, dedicated public servant,” DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond said during Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony. “And but for her, we would not be standing here today.”