The local food movement has come a long way in a relatively short time, and while challenges remain, it is headed in a positive direction. That was the hopeful message from two Atlanta-based organizations — Georgia Organics and Food Well Alliance — that both celebrated milestones in the past week.
On Oct. 8, Georgia Organics commemorated 20 years of promoting sustainable foods and local farms in Georgia with a special chef-prepared dinner at Gunshow.
Food Well Alliance, which brings together members of Atlanta’s food movement to help build healthier communities, celebrated its second year in operation. Food Well Alliance’s annual Love Local event, held Oct. 5 at the King Plow Arts Center in West Midtown, brought together policymakers, funders, innovators and urban farmers to celebrate the successes and growth of the city’s local food movement.
The nonprofit was founded in 2015 through financial support from the James M. Cox Foundation. At this year’s Love Local event, Alex Taylor, chief operating officer of Cox Enterprises and a Food Well Alliance board member,
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announced that the Cox Foundation had approved an additional $2 million grant for Food Well Alliance. (Cox Enterprises is the parent company of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.)
The event also saw the unveiling of Atlanta’s first Local Food Baseline Report, which outlines the state of the local food movement and offers a road map for the future. The report provides a snapshot of the impact of the local food system on Atlanta’s economic development, community vitality, health and nutritional and environmental stewardship. (The report can be found online at foodwellalliance.org.)
“We need to know collectively where we’re at so we know where we’re going,” Food Well Alliance executive director Bobbi de Winter told attendees.
Projected on an overhead screen was a timeline that charted milestones in Atlanta’s local food movement.
“The timeline shows our collective legacy,” de Winter said.
The timeline begins in 1995. That year marks the founding of Atlanta’s first farmers market, Morningside Farmers Market, as well as the launch of the Atlanta Community Food Bank Community Garden initiative, established to address food insecurity and improve community vitality.
Some 22 years later, there are more than 63 farmers markets located in the five-county metro Atlanta region and nearly 300 community gardens.
More recent inroads include the city of Atlanta hiring its first urban agriculture director in 2015 to facilitate the growth of Atlanta’s urban agriculture community. This year has seen the formation of the Atlanta Community-Based Composting Council to increase community-based compost production to benefit metro Atlanta’s urban farmers and community gardeners.
“The local food movement is strong,” de Winter said, noting that the majority of food for the event was sourced from urban farms and gardens located within 17 miles of the venue.
She cited collaboration as the “magic sauce” for creating a vibrant food community.
Among leaders in Atlanta’s local food movement who took the stage that evening was Alice Rolls, executive director of Georgia Organics. Just a few days later, Rolls would celebrate Georgia Organics’ two decades of successes at its own party.
Rolls has served as the organization’s executive director for the past 14 years. “I guess I could be considered an elder statesman. That just tells you how young this movement is,” she said. “The people working in it in the last 10 to 15 years, they are the doers, the early adopters, to have the vision to see a food system that makes us healthy, not sick, food that is healing and bringing us together instead of dividing.”
Among its initiatives, Georgia Organics is focusing to increase the number of children participating in farm-to-school programs. According to Rolls, 40 percent of school districts in Georgia now have farm-to-school programs.
Rolls called farmers the “linchpin of the food system.” Increasing the number of organic farms in Georgia is one of the organization’s key goals.
In the winter of 2014, Georgia Organics and the Georgia Department of Agriculture launched the 100 Organic Farms Campaign to grow Georgia’s organic industry from 75 certified organic farms to more than 100 by the end of 2016. The program was so successful, seeing a 36 percent increase in 16 months, that it set a more ambitious goal. Today, there are 122 certified organic farms in Georgia, and they want to see 200 certified organic farms in Georgia by 2020.
Georgia Organics defines organic farming as “a holistic approach to growing crops without synthetic inputs like pesticides and fertilizers.”
But she sees continued need to help organic farmers survive. “It’s so tough to make a living at organic farming,” Rolls said. “If those farmers can’t survive past three or five years, we’re not doing enough to support them. We want to work toward that. They are not only growing our food, they are on the front line of preventative health, of climate change.”