A scene from last year’s Soil Festival (Photo by Jenni Girtman)

Food Well Alliance does not encourage Atlantans to include dirt on the menu, but they do believe dirt determines the quality of the food that ends up on our plates.

The nonprofit, which works to help strengthen the local food economy, is hosting its annual Soil Festival at the Truly Living Well’s Collegetown Farm, 324 Lawton St., on May 5 from 1 to 5 p.m. The afternoon of free events will include educational workshops, a children’s corner with garden-based activities, a variety of urban agriculture vendors, a petting zoo and farm-to-table food. Attendees will also get a free bag of compost for their own garden.

“Healthy food starts from the ground up and starts with the soil,” said Food Well Alliance executive director Kim Karris. “Who would think you could throw a party around dirt, but hundreds of people show up to this event.”

Through conversations with community gardens and urban farmers, Karris discovered the number one challenge to growing food in Atlanta was access to healthy soil and affordable, high quality compost. A group of seven Food Well Alliance leaders launched the Healthy Soil, Healthy Community Initiative and hosted a series of 30 workshops on the importance of soil and composting.

“Especially in an urban area, you need to make sure that soil is healthy and not only free of toxins, but also that it has all the nutrients needed,” Karris said.

She finds environmentalists have started to address food waste more in recent years, yet few people are making the connection between where food waste goes and how it can be returned to farm and food production in the form of nutrient rich compost.

Compost may take a few months to cultivate, but the payoff is high quality soil as the key source for growing healthy food. Gather food scraps, from banana peels and eggshells to coffee grounds and strawberry tops, and place in a compost bin. Use a thermometer to monitor proper decomposing and food can turn into fuel for the next crop.

“We are not a soil organization, but we need compost and the consciousness of Atlantans to understand that food waste is gold for an urban farmer or gardener. Our ability to recycle food waste and turn it into compost for healthy soil is the link that is missing,” Karris said.

For more information, visit foodwellalliance.org.