In honor of Martin Luther King Day, NEXT Steps, a youth entrepreneur program, held an MLK day community cleanup and BBQ fundraiser at the Smith Family Ranch in Stockbridge.  Photo by Isaiah Singleton/The Atlanta Voice

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, NEXT Steps, a youth entrepreneur program, held a MLK day community cleanup and BBQ fundraiser at the Smith Family Ranch in Stockbridge.  

The Smith Family Ranch is a family-owned and operated entity. Centrally located in the city of Stockbridge, it’s home to a variety of furry friends that wait in excitement to be treated by the new visitors. The ranch also serves as the grounds for community events and gatherings where they are thrilled to share all the wonders mother nature has to offer. 

At their first community cleanup event at the Smith Family Ranch, Dana Jewel Harris, executive director of Next Steps Youth Entrepreneur program, said one of her mentees brought her to the ranch because she helps farmers and new beginning ranchers design their spaces and turn them into agritourism states.  

“This ranch is 42 acres, and I will be developing a supply chain management system as well, but it’ll be rooted in education and training. With agritourism, it involves education but also involves hospitality, tourism, outdoor recreation, and entertainment,” Harris said. “So, we’ve done Easter egg hunts where we get about 400 people here. We did a jazz festival last October, where we had 150 people here, so this place lends for a lot of community outreach and engagement, but it’s also an outdoor venue.” 

At the community cleanup, Harris said they are starting the beautification process. 

The entire area of the ranch is going to be beautified over the course of the year. We have petting farms, so we have a lot of field trips and we do birthday parties and family reunions,” she said. “People get to feed the animals as part of the experience, we have a seven-mile walking trail, and have pocket gardens throughout the area, and we also have a three-acre pond in the back where we teach fishing and ultimately want to do concerts around the pond.” 

The Smith Family and Dana Jewel Harris (far right) pose for a photo during the MLK Day cleanup and BBQ, Monday, Jan. 16, 2024.
Photo by Isaiah Singleton/The Atlanta Voice

At some point this year, Harris said, they will be holding garden parties and teaching how to grow all kinds of things in the area.  

“We’re going to expand on that to include a greenhouse, have an outdoor kitchen, and really make it engaging and inviting to get more people outdoors to do this part of therapy,” she said. “I’m beginning my journey to be licensed in horticulture therapy. The kids that are shoveling looks like work, but that’s a therapy activity because collaboration and doing something that is bigger than yourself for someone else. So, for people that’s feeling depressed or something like that, it helps them, and we do equine therapy where every second Saturday, we teach people how to ride horses.” 

Harris said she chose to do the cleanup and BBQ fundraiser on MLK day because MLK day has always been an amazing day of service. 

Also, she used to have an old farm in west Atlanta called Atwood Community Gardens and was one of the top community partners with Hands On Atlanta.  

“I would serve about 1,500 people a year. Every MLK day I’d have about 1,500 a day and MLK day is when people are off and then is called the day of service. So, people would look out for things to do that they could do with their family,” she said. “Not only is it helping the community, but it’s something that you come back to, so MLK day has always been an amazing day of service, and finding people is a great marketing tool to get people to come to your property. It helps the business, the community, and the kids get to learn and stay out of trouble.” 

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