By Maria Saporta

Local food organizations have created a coalition to help Georgia’s urban and rural farmers weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organizations, – which include the Food Well Alliance and Georgia Organics, Community Farmers Markets, Wholesome Wave Georgia, Global Growers Network, the Common Market Southeast and Atlanta Farmers Coalition – have created the Farmer Fund COVID-19 Emergency Relief Campaign.

The Farmer Fund – currently led by Georgia Organics – was already in place to help farmers during natural disasters. Its board adapted the Fund so it could also raise money for those affected by the latest Coronavirus pandemic.

Kim Karris, executive director of the Atlanta-based Food Well Alliance, said the various groups have been focused on how to get funding to the people who need it right away.

Kim Karris, executive director of the Food Well Alliance

“It’s amazing how we have all come together,” said Karris, adding that they’ve been able to overcome any urban-rural divide that may have existed before the crisis. “We all realize that local, sustainable agriculture is part of the solution.”

The groups are motivated by the understanding that it’s more important than ever to provide nutritious, immune-boosting food during the pandemic, but they will need significant funding to plant, harvest, and shift to new models of selling and distributing the food.

Karris said the timing is of utmost importance.

“We really only have until May 10 for farmers to get their plants in the ground for spring,” she said. “If they aren’t able to do it by then, we will have lost a growing season.”

The groups also are focused on making locally grown food available for those who need it most – children, families, seniors, healthcare workers, and the growing numbers of people facing financial strain.

“There’s no safer food than locally-grown food right now. It is urgently needed for the resilience of our communities,” Karris said. “We knew it would take a collaborative effort to ensure that our local and urban farmers have what they need to continue to provide their fresh, nutritious food to those that most need it. We swiftly reached out to our partner organizations to coordinate our collective response.”

Karris added the coalition will be meeting weekly to monitor the situation. In addition to raising funds, people will be working with people on the ground. Food Well Alliance is sending team members to help till the land, providing free compost and loaning BCS tractors in partnership with the Atlanta Community ToolBank.

Brent Hall, farmer and owner of Freewheel Farm in Atlanta (Photo by Caleb Jones for Food Well Alliance)

“While the initial purpose was specific to natural disasters in the traditional sense, it quickly became apparent to us that a pandemic like COVID-19 is its own natural disaster – and is certainly an emergency,” said Alice Rolls, president and CEO of Georgia Organics. “We got approval from our board to temporarily shift to a collaborative fundraising effort specifically for COVID-19 emergency relief. This will be more efficient than each organization running their own campaigns. All of the organizations have been eager to work together and partner in promoting the campaign.”

The special COVID-19 Farmer Fund campaign will not only assist farmers, but also farmers markets and other local food entities.

“It is imperative for the lives and livelihoods of Atlantans that access points to fresh, local, and healthy food remain open, even as social distancing increases,” said Katie Hayes, executive director of the Community Farmers “Our primary concern is the health, safety, and security of our community members, vendors, and staff. We’ve enacted numerous safety measures, following public health guidelines.”

Farmers markets, farm and produce stands, and food cultivation (including farming and livestock) are among the essential businesses listed in recent executive orders issued by cities, including the City of Atlanta and the City of Decatur.

Wholesome Wave Georgia plays a critical day-to-day role at farmers markets by matching SNAP/EBT purchases dollar for dollar through its Georgia Fresh for Less program.

A food-insecure customer purchasing $10 worth of fresh produce at a farmers’ market can get another $10 worth of produce.

Will Sellers, executive director of Wholesome Wave Georgia, said it is focused on maintaining access to fresh, healthy, locally grown food for communities across the state.

“Not only are families being affected by the pandemic, but our small, independent farmers are feeling it at home and in their pocketbooks and wallets,” Sellers said. “Feeding more families boosts farmers’ sales, and that benefits our local economy as well.”

Grower Dimno Zamsuan at Decatur’s Kitchen Garden, part of Global Growers Network (Photo by Caleb Jones for the Food Well Alliance)
Grower Dimno Zamsuan at Decatur’s Kitchen Garden, part of Global Growers Network (Photo by Caleb Jones for the Food Well Alliance)

Bill Green, executive director of the Common Market, said other local food leaders are exploring how they can share logistical resources, which has trucks, drivers and refrigeration.

Robin Chanin, executive director of Global Growers, said her organization has several walk-in coolers and a delivery van that can be put to work.

“For the past 10 years, Global Growers Network has partnered with more than 300 new American families who grow fresh and culturally relevant food for their families and for local marketplaces,” she said. “If there is one thing we have learned from this community of ex-refugees, it is how to be resilient and innovative in the face of adversity.”

The Atlanta Farmers Coalition is a networking group for farmers serving the metro Atlanta area. The group includes more than 45 farmers representing 30 urban farms. “We are currently focused on connecting farmers with new markets and ensuring that local farmers and businesses remain open with a focus on filling gaps within the local food system and positioning current and aspiring farmers to provide for their neighborhoods,” said Maurice Small, president Atlanta Farmers Coalition. “Also organizing collective action on critical issues such as SNAP distribution, bulk buying, seed sharing, and business opportunities, while investigating and supporting local agriculture infrastructure as a resilience strategy.”

During an interview, Karris said the whole experience has been “surreal,” but she has been inspired by how everyone has come together.

“It’s a little scary,” Karris said. “But it’s beautiful to watch this happen with people feeding the communities they serve.”

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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...

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