Giving a Fare Share
Local organizations working to eradicate food deserts in Atlanta & provide fresh, affordable nutrition
By Dane O’Neill, Member, The Junior League of Atlanta, Inc.
With a restaurant scene worthy of mention in top national publications, it might come as a surprise that many Atlantans, particularly in the heart of the city, are living in areas with limited access to reliable sources of whole foods and fresh produce. As of 2014, there were an estimated 2 million Georgians; 500,000 of which were children, living in these areas known as food deserts. According to the USDA, a food desert is a low-income community where at least 33% of the population lives more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store.
The unfortunate reality is food deserts are most prevalent in neighborhoods where residents must rely on a lacking public transportation system. Deficient access to affordable, healthy foods has been linked to a myriad of health issues.
According to a study done by Clark Atlanta University’s Environmental Justice Center, Atlanta, the 9th largest metropolis in the United States, was ranked the third worst urban food desert in 2011 behind New Orleans and Chicago, with three times as many supermarkets in affluent neighborhoods than in poor neighborhoods. While it might be hard to reconcile this truth within the context of an evolving city like Atlanta, there are many factors that have contributed to the existence of food deserts in our city. A study out of Georgia Tech reported that the American Planning Association did not consider food systems as relating to public services until 2005. Prior to that, food systems were only considered in terms of impact on the economy, leaving the impact on environments out of factors considered when planning for grocery store locations. Similarly, suburban neighborhoods are more attractive to large grocery retailers, driven by economic and business interests. Generally, urban neighborhoods are unappealing to retailers – land, taxes, rent, permits, lack of parking and lower socioeconomic classes are just a few deterrents of the urban core.
Atlanta has taken many steps to respond to the prevalence of food deserts. In 2008 the City of Atlanta launched the Office of Sustainability and as a result, named the city’s first Urban Agriculture Director, Mario Cambardella. Adding a leadership position to the city’s administration and determining specific goals, like bringing locally sourced food within a half-mile of 75% of Atlanta residents by 2020, have been pivotal in improving urban agriculture accessibility in Atlanta. As of 2016, food deserts covered 36 percent of the city of Atlanta compared to 53 percent in 2010, according to Cambardella.
Partnerships, like those The Junior League of Atlanta, Inc. (JLA) continuously cultivates with organizations across the city, will be key in continued development towards making Atlanta a more sustainable and agriculturally accessible city.
To learn more about how JLA is impacting the community through awareness initiatives and community partners, visit www.jlatlanta.org or follow our outreach activities on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Featured Photo (top): Nuri Icgoren, Founder of Urban Sprouts Farms, an urban agricultural hub that serves as an entrepreneurial incubator in Lakewood Heights.