Tony and Shari Martin are professionals in health care technology and software task management, respectively who want to be farmers. So they bought a farm near their home in Roswell. CONTRIBUTED

Community Voices: Urbanites learn farming for a cause

Those of us of a certain age can remember a TV sitcom of the 1960s called “Green Acres.” A high-powered New York lawyer played by Eddie Albert wants to be a farmer. He buys a farm sight unseen and moves to the country with his wife (Eva Gabor). The couple have no clue what they’re getting themselves into.

Fast-forward to the 21st century. Tony and Shari Martin – professionals in health care technology and software task management, respectively – want to be farmers. They buy a farm in Roswell they’re familiar with because they live nearby. They know exactly what they’re getting themselves into; they hire a farm manager.

“Green Acres” is fantasy. This is how it’s really done.

The Martins plan to grow produce on up to 1½ acres of their 6.7-acre spread (they’ve got Swiss chard, kale and broccoli in the first quarter-acre in production now), sell two-thirds on-site and to local restaurants to cover their costs, and donate one-third to the Atlanta Community Food Bank. They’ll also have chickens for eggs, and sheep and goats as natural brush cutters (everything is to be organic).

“Either we’re crazy, or we’re doing something right,” Tony Martin said.

The couple acquired the property on Coleman Road from the family of Ora Coleman, who had farmed the land – originally, more than 125 acres – for more than six decades. Coleman died in January 2012 at the age of 89.

The Roswell City Council in August granted the Martins’ request to rezone their land from suburban residential housing to agricultural – a nearly unheard-of reversal of the typical farmland-to-subdivision progression. “Martin’s Garden at Coleman Farms” was off and running.

The couple’s inspiration for an urban farm was hatched on trips to Europe and Southeast Asia, where they were impressed by the way people used the land to sustain themselves.

Also, the husband said, “I’m on the advisory board of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, and one of the struggles is, how do we get quality food to the people we’re trying to provide for?”

The Martins and their children Bode 13, and Layni, 11, come out Thursday nights and weekends to work with their manager Erica Coady, formerly of Serenbe Farms. When they need extra hands, they have 50 to 60 volunteers they can call on, “people who signed up on our Facebook page,” and from a local private school, High Meadows.

A building has been converted to a residence for Coady. A porch out front will be a farmstand. There’s a greenhouse were crops are started from seed.

Tony Martin declined to say how much they’ve sunk into the project: “It’s a crazy amount of money.”

“We didn’t look at it from a financial standpoint, in the short term; we’re looking at it from a long-term perspective,” he says. “My hope is our children will want to take it over at some point and keep it in the family.”

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