In the heart of Atlanta, a grassroots movement emerged as concern over food access increased for those living in underserved communities.
With one out of every eight Georgians estimated to struggle with food insecurity, metro Atlanta is home to more than 150 gardens and 40 to 50 farms all growing produce. They all serve as vital sources of sustenance for those who live in neighborhoods without fresh produce.
“I have seen devastation in these United States and within these communities that we serve, where people are really in need,” Bobby Wilson, owner of Metro Atlanta Urban Farm, said.
As the landscape and population expand, access to affordable, organic groceries is a pressing public health issue. Atlanta gardeners and farmers are coming together to cultivate not only crops but also a beacon of hope to improve the overall quality of life for city locals.
Wilson dedicated his retirement to ensuring marginalized and underserved groups have access to locally grown food. He typically feeds around 80 people outside his 5-acre farm in College Park in just one day.
“I go through these things to help people not because I have to, but because I want to,” he said. “I feel like I can make a real difference in their lives.”
Addressing food insecurity involves several key components. Wilson says his responsibilities extend far beyond planting and harvesting. Community planning, education and reshaping perceptions of food are all vital factors in getting to the root of the problem.
“Life starts with the farm, believe it or not,” he said. “Without the farm, where would we be?”
In many food-insecure households, stressful financial situations can cause a reliance on processed, unhealthy food options due to accessibility and affordability. Children growing up in these environments are more at risk for chronic health problems. This is why Wilson and a few other farmers collaborated to set up a farmers market at local schools where each child was given a budget to buy organic fruits and vegetables to bring home to their families.
“One of the goals I have is to change the eating habits of young people,” Wilson said. “ Most of them don’t have access to food, period.”
Local farmers markets can alleviate food anxiety in many ways within a community. Thelinjoris Shaw, a DeKalb County resident, says she is motivated to purchase from farmers markets because of the affordability and quality of produce.
On average, the price of Beefsteak tomatoes at Kroger is $1.99 per pound. Three Beefsteak tomatoes cost $3.36. At a farmers market, Shaw said she could buy about six of them for $4, nearly $3 in savings.
“If you’ve visited a grocery store and looked at the prices of organic food, in most cases the prices are so much higher than non-organic food,” Shaw said. “So even if a person wants to eat organically healthier items, they may pass it by due to the higher prices.”
Shopping for produce at a farmers market is a safe choice for budget-conscious individuals to eat organic and save money.
Farmers can get trapped in a vicious cycle of needing to raise prices because of rising labor and supply costs. However, the owners of farmers markets are not selling produce for the sole purpose of profit. Farmers markets now also accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
“Yes, a profit is ultimately something that is desired and may be needed,” Shaw said. “However, in most cases, the owners of farms are aware of the food insecurities in many communities and they are providing the needed food to those less fortunate who are in desperate need of organic food.”
A lack of food is the main perpetrator in continuing the cycle of poverty. Food insecurity has been linked to numerous health conditions including diabetes, hypertension, depression and other chronic illnesses, according to Feeding America. These illnesses can lead to increased medical bills or loss of income, which forces people to make difficult choices when it comes to paying for necessities.
“Think about what this world could be if we all sincerely cared about the next human being and shared what we have with them regardless of the color of their skin or socio-economic status,” Shaw said. “I applaud and I’m grateful to all farmers and those working hard each day to maintain personal gardens, community gardens and markets.”
Metro Atlanta Urban Farm implements several programs to help the underserved, such as the farm’s food giveaways and community gardening program. This program teaches agriculture training so families can learn to grow their own food to feed themselves.
Gardening at home can significantly lower grocery bills and encourage healthier food options. Families can control food production without the need for transportation.
Food Well Alliance is a nonprofit that provides resources and support to local growers in Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett and Clayton counties. Flannery Pearson-Clarke, a volunteer and outreach coordinator, says learning to garden creates a local food center, whether it’s as simple as sharing produce with your neighbors or through an intentional food donation to a pantry.
“Food insecurity is happening in all communities, regardless of where you are in the city,” Pearson-Clarke said. “I believe gardens can be a really good resource for anyone.”