This is the third in a series of op-eds by members of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Millennial Advisory Panel. This panel of 135 young leaders was selected from 400 applicants, and worked for the last six months to generate solutions to some of the Atlanta region’s thorniest issues. This editorial is by Joey Shea, Coordinator, Development and Communications, Southface, who is representing ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #3, on the issue of “healthy livable communities.”
The metro Atlanta region faces a massive challenge to food access. Many families in the region are unsure if they will have any food on the table, let alone healthy options that meet nutritional guidelines.
Though families all over the region struggle with food security, certain neighborhoods and populations are hit the hardest. Many of these are the same neighborhoods where residents suffer in the face of violence, addiction and poverty. The USDA defines areas of high poverty with high levels of food insecurity as food deserts.
Ironically, while many Atlanta neighborhoods suffer from a high level of food insecurity, the metro Atlanta region is becoming well-known for its growing and thriving food scene. The region is home to many food cultures, food enthusiasts and food movements that form a vibrant “foodscape.”
Food shapes our regional identity, adds value to our economy and elevates our quality of life. But the region’s “foodie” culture is out of reach for the many lower income and disadvantaged residents who live in the region’s food deserts.
Food access is a fundamental right, and no one should be denied access. There should be a way to share the region’s rich food culture with residents, young and old, of all incomes in neighborhoods across the region.
The Atlanta Regional Commission’s Millennial Advisory Panel Team #3 proposes a Regional Mobile Grocery (the Grocery) that will connect all residents of the Metro Atlanta Region to the joy of eating high quality, healthy food. We intend for this initiative to also foster a cohesive regional identity around a diverse, but accessible food culture. At its core, the Grocery will address food insecurity and serve as a community asset for people of all income levels.
We know that social stigma and negativity can be barriers to participation in food programs. Labeling a program “low income” can unintentionally marginalize the populations that need its services the most. We also know from experience that communities may reject or ignore farmer’s markets, new groceries or community gardens when residents are left out of the planning processes for these ventures. Such initiatives are community placed, rather than community based. With this in mind, we understand that a mobile solution to food insecurity must respond to community needs and interests.
At the heart of food insecurity are two distinct challenges that the Grocery will address: education and physical access to food.
The Grocery will focus its educational efforts on two programs:
- Brief cooking demonstrations that teach people how to prepare fresh, healthy and tasty meals that save time and money.
- Culinary training programs that help citizens gain tangible skill sets. The mobile grocery will provide recipe cards and offer cooking classes as a programmatic intervention for food access.
The educational aspect of the Grocery will be vital to the long-term success of the program and will add the most value for citizens. The programs will help families develop a variety of skills for preparing food, as well as strategies for budgeting, nutrition, food safety and sanitation.
To address the issue of physical access to food, the Grocery will work with communities to design a process that fits the specific needs and interests of local residents. A mobile grocery delivery program is an ideal solution for food deserts because it allows for delivery of affordable, healthy food directly to neighborhoods and ensures that food options are culturally relevant.
The Grocery will offer two types of delivery options:
- An online, pre-ordering program will help the Grocery select foods to deliver to the neighborhood in a given week or month, allowing residents to control the ingredients they receive, giving them a sense of agency and targeting the Grocery’s delivery to what will be used and valued by the community.
- In areas where online access may be a challenge, the Grocery will work with community members and other program providers to plan inventory for the coming weeks. Though resident engagement and input into the Grocery’s stock will be vital to a sense of community ownership of the program, the Grocery will also provide staple food items at every delivery, encouraging the use of whole ingredients for healthier meals.
The Regional Mobile Grocery is an idea that can change the landscape of food access in the Metro Atlanta region. Food is a powerful social connector, and the Grocery can serve as a hub for communal interaction and neighborhood engagement.
The importance of food as a vehicle for increasing social capital and community cohesion cannot be overstated. The Grocery will enable communities that previously have been cut out of the vibrant food culture of metro Atlanta to share in that regional identity.
Watch Action Team #3 pitch their idea for a regional mobile grocery to regional leaders.
Learn more about ARC’s Millennial Advisory Panel at: newvoices.atlantaregional.com.
Joey Shea, along with Christina Cummings, Josh Gately, Allison Bustin, Erin Hendrix, Hannah Janet Pak and Bebe Rogers represent ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #3.