Buying plums, tomatoes, broccoli, mangos before hopping on MARTA at West End station

By Maria Saporta

The West End MARTA Station could be a window into the future.

There was a time when MARTA discouraged commercial activity within its stations.

But on Friday, Jan. 17, transit executives welcomed the official launch of the Fresh MARTA Market at the entrance of the West End station.

MARTA Market

Selling vegetables and fruit to MARTA patrons at West End Station (Photo: Maria Saporta)

Keith Parker, MARTA’s CEO and general manager, heralded the market as a way of bringing “needed resources to an area that needs it.” The need? Fresh vegetables and fruits available for sale in an area that has sometimes been seen as a desert for healthy and fresh foods for sale.

Having a relationship between transit and fresh foods is a natural because they both promote healthy and sustainable communities. People who start riding transit often lose weight because they exercise more than if they were driving a car. People who eat more fresh fruit and vegetables also tend to be healthier.

It is all about making MARTA and its stations centers of activity for a community.

Atlanta City Councilwoman Cleta Winslow said that during a dry run a week earlier, the growers selling their goods had run out of produce – showing that the idea already was a winner.

MARTA market

A placard lets riders know about the Fresh MARTA Market at the West End Station (Photo: MARTA)

“Maybe it will encourage more people to use MARTA,” she said.

The West End Fresh MARTA Market came about through a two-year effort between the neighborhood, local urban farmers and Georgia Organics working with MARTA, according to Rob Johnson, vice president of community services for the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

Johnson said the goal is to create an oasis of fresh food in areas that have been food deserts.

More than 75 percent of West End residents and MARTA customers surveyed indicated they would likely purchase fresh produce at the station, if it were to be available.

According to MARTA, the pop-up market will operate outside the station each Friday from 2- 6 p.m. through October. It is being managed in partnership with Food Oasis, Community Farmers Market and the Southwest Atlanta Growers Cooperative.

These organizations have worked closely with West End residents to promote healthy, affordable and sustainable eating habits. Food Oasis is a program of the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

MARTA Market

Civic leaders and MARTA executives cut the ribbon officially launching Fresh MARTA Market (Photo: MARTA)

As Parker said, the MARTA Market represents a new day for the transit agency.

“For the first time since the Olympics, MARTA will have balanced its budget for the third year in a row,” Parker said – quickly adding that the agency has not had to raise transit fares for years.

Shoppers also have the opportunity to incorporate fitness into their market experience. Every third Friday of the month at 4 p.m., West End-based Red, Bike & Green will lead a community bike tour from the Fresh MARTA Market to five local farms. The tour costs $10 and is open to cyclists of all skill levels.

MARTA market

MARTA riders check out the new fresh market (Photo: Maria Saporta_

 

MARTA market

Selling vegetables and fruit at the Fresh MARTA Market at West End (Photo by Maria Saporta)

 

MARTA market

City Councilwoman Cleta Winslow takes photo of Keith Parker at West End MARTA station (Photo: Maria Saporta)

 

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

11 replies
  1. Atlanta Millennial says:

    Oasis has already hurt the pockets of urban farmers in the west end who were working together to offer food to the community. It’s become a competition that Oasis is winning with help from moneyed backers and great marketing (like this article). Of course the idea to offer fresh food to the community is awesome, but as usual when the community tried to be self sufficient and help, itself outside forces came in to co-opt it. As a social entrepreneur and former non-profit administration I have a problem when buzz words like “food deserts”, combined with foundation funding, come together to create a sterilized solution that seemingly appears out of nowhere and knocks off the grassroots effort the community was trying to put in place. For example, there has been a gentleman selling fresh fruit and veggies outside of the marta station for months before this. He is still there. But now he is taking a hit because he didn’t have the connections to open up shop right in the station like Oasis, with the help of financial backers. The idea is great but I wish more thought was put into it. Or maybe thought was put into it….maybe there are other reasons why people are strategically placed in neighborhoods to do “good works”. Sometimes we can stunt the growth of the community we intend (or not) to help by just coming in and giving them a solution instead of empowering them to work it out themselves. It pains me when I see people preach collaboration, innovation, creativity and social entrepreneurship yet they are disconnected from the community and appear to use culture and a communities issues for their own gain. While working poor are buying food from Oasis, they should ask, “Who are you?” “Why are you here/What are you intentions?” “Where did you come from?” “Who’s financing you?” I wonder if there’s a connection between progressive initiatives like this, family foundations and gentrification?

    I will continue to turn to Saporta Report as a trusted news source for Atlanta. I just ask questions when I see the West End getting coverage like this. Thank You.(BTW Yes we know there were community meetings, pitch and potluck and the food innovation network. We are involved. These are just facts.)Report

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  2. AdeWestEnd says:

    Good questions from Atlanta Millennial.  Haven’t been to this market, but there is also a new Farmer’s Market at Gordon-White Park in the West End on Fridays that doesn’t get the same publicity.  I spoke to one farmer there that grows in the neighborhood and walks across the street to sell her awesome eggplant and other vegetables.  West End also has Patchwork City Farms and other urban farms that locals have used for years.  Along with the Wren’s Nest Farmers Market and several grocery stores in walking distance, I wouldn’t call West End a food desert!  Still love to see this happening, along with the Food Oasis in Vine City on Saturdays that gives 2x value for EBT.  That is a win for residents dependent on public transit and builds on the urban agriculture strengths in SW.Report

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  3. mnst says:

    @Atlanta Millennial If West End doesn’t want it, my neighborhood would love to have the market at the Inman Park/Reynoldstown station.Report

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  4. ILoveVineCity says:

    @Atlanta Millennial Live in Vine City too on the Westside. It’s a positive contribution. We have too few people contributing to our community to waste our efforts tearing down those are trying to do some good.Report

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  5. Cicely says:

    @Atlanta Millennial I understand and respect your concerns. I would be happy to speak with you and discuss the set-up and how the market came to fruition. It was not at the behest of financial backers. MARTA does not provide any direct funds for this effort. They published a formal RFQ in March open to anyone to apply to be operator of the market. Food Oasis and Community Farmers Market only agreed to participate in this effort if the local growers SWAG were on board. Patchwork and several other farmers are apart of the SWAG cooperative. SWAG switch the Sunday market at Wren’s nest to participate in this one. Additionally, ALL of the growers in the area and/or markets are promoted on printed materials and websites. 

    Our goal was not to displace anyone but to pilot a model to show possibilities that in future can be duplicated at other stations directly with local growers. The model is a work in progress and not perfect in its first iteration but rather a pilot/start. We also have requested that MARTA not displace or harass those already selling in the area adjacent to the MARTA station. We are always open to feedback and concerns and adjusting accordingly. Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] or 678-553-5982 or visit georgiafoodoasis.org for more info.Report

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  6. EatlocalATL says:

    @Atlanta Millennial Seems like you’re presenting an opinion and not necessarily ‘just’ facts.  Also this is a MARTA led initiative, not Food Oasis.   As a pilot, it’s intended to spread beyond the West End and serve passengers and communities surrounding MARTA stations, most have low-access to fresh, healthy food options.  Unlike many high density cities our transportation hubs in ATL do not offer greater access and diversity of food purveyors and retailers, and it’s about time we became a city with equal access to amenities of convenience as well as healthy and fresh food.  Honestly, competition is healthy and a one-day a week market is simply not going to drive away business, if anything it should create opportunities for new shoppers seeking out more fresh food options through the course of the week.

    The West End does have a wealth of growers, and SWAG is part of the Fresh MARTA Market, and other local growers have been invited to participate. So I don’t see how you can wag your finger.  Would you prefer this to be a gov’t run market that would simply supply resale produce from the state FM or Your DeKalb FM?  Because that’s how a gov’t intervention would have worked instead.Report

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  7. ktrackrecords says:

    @Atlanta Millennial wow this is a killer initiative really providing a healthy option for the community. I understand there are many in the area with other health based solutions. we dont all have the same goals. eating healthy can mean alot of different things. Building self sufficiency is very different than increasing availability of fresh foods. Yes Marta should allow competition among other vendors but that works both ways. All these “local” weekly farmers markets around Atlanta have very strict rules about who and what is allowed to be sold. The gentleman selling produce outside the Marta need not apply.Report

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  8. Atlanta Millennial says:

    mnst  Inman park has Sevenandah within walking distance. I live equidistance from the west end station and Kroger on ralph david and I take marta to lil 5  to get healthy food from the co-op regularly. Yes I’d like a closer, healthier option other than the small organic section at Kroger. At the same time a stand at a Marta station once a week is a step in the right direction. Let’s think critically people. Why now? Is this a part of a bigger movement?  REAL FOOD DESERTS: MECHANICSVILLE, PEOPLESTOWN, VINE CITY. Get real. The West End is the next wave of gentrification. If you really wanted to create an Oasis Peoplestown needs a store BADLY. I lived there and literally ate fries from McGruder’s some days when I couldn’t get to the Moreland Kroger. (We love you Mr. McGruder)…. It’s crazy that people are attacking my comments. How many of you have been an unemployed teenager in the summer with no money in these neighborhoods when there is only a liquor store or corner store???? I HAVE! It is a competition to serve us! But WE WANT TO SERVE OURSELVES! Employ youth in the neighborhood as Urban gardeners and have them sell that!Report

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  9. ktrackrecords says:

    @Atlanta Millennial mnst so what your saying is, the only reason they are selling healthy foods in this area is to further the gentrification. There are definitely areas more lacking in access to fresh foods, but that doesn’t mean they are a better location for this initiative. Maybe the West End is good spot for this because there is a mix of folks who regular purchase healthy foods like yourself but also others that don’t. Its not just about increasing access. Its also about meeting a demand. 

    Visiting any grocery store, Sevenandah included, without buying the excess junk foods is like walking into a bar without drinking. Its tuff. Farmers markets and initiatives like this are a way to avoid those over-processed addictive foods all-together.

    Employ youth in the neighborhood? Try it yourself. There is demand for local foods but to make it profitable or even come close its gonna cost way more than imported food. Often the very people the loudest about local foods are the most clueless about how much work it takes for such little return. Farms exist for a reason. They are huge and heavily mechanized. Growing your own food is fun and rewarding but its hardly a business model. Its like making your own socks. There’s a few people who might buy local socks. Maybe in Grant Park. But most people don’t care.

    It must really take some paranoia to vilify Marta or Oasis for this initiative.Report

    Reply

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