Farmers Markets help battle hunger
by Landon Bubb, AFM Public Outreach Intern
Hey farmers market friends! Sorry for my lengthy absence but I’ve had a crazy semester! Highlights include being awarded “Sustainable UGA’s most outstanding undergraduate,” graduating from UGA, and a great start to this Athens Farmers Market season. Also the AFM’s recent Good Food, Good Beer Block Party raised over $4,000 for Wholesome Wave Georgia’s SNAP doubling program. That money goes back into the Athens community to help address local food insecurity. So this week I examine the state of food insecurity and how the AFM is crafting solutions. Disclaimer: I come from a place of privilege and have never been food insecure.
A friend and regular Athens Farmers Market volunteer, Drew Hooks, serves as AmeriCorp Vista’s Hunger Relief Specialist at Action Ministries. I turned to him to better understand the state of local food insecurity. Hooks reports that “according to Feeding America, 18.9% of Georgia’s households are food insecure and 28.1% of Georgia’s children are food insecure. In Athens Clarke County, we have one of the highest poverty rates in the country at 34% and 83% of our students are eligible for free and reduced priced meals.” These rates are alarmingly high compared to national levels and result in visual and tangible effects. Hooks regularly engages with families struggling to provide for their families. Even holding one or two low-wage jobs isn’t enough for some families who contact him. People experiencing food insecurity face disproportionate worry about their food running out, having to cut or skip meals, and providing balanced meals for themselves and families (USDA 2012).
The AFM seeks to address both accessibility and cost of nutritious food through the WWG SNAP doubling program. All EBT transactions give consumers twice the spending power at the market. Families budgeting $50 have access to $100 worth of organic, local, and nutritious food that in turn supports our local farmers. According to a 2012 Wholesome Wave report, national doubling programs greatly increase fruit and vegetable consumption resulting in long term changes in vegetable consumption. These increased interactions also help farmers expand their product selections, add infrastructure (greenhouses or hoop houses) or buy new equipment.
The power to double largely comes from donations and fundraising. Personal donations and large events like the Autumn Harvest Feast and the Good Food Good Beer Block Party annually raise thousands of dollars which translate into thousands of healthy meals. Ben & Jerry’s in Athens also hosts monthly percentage nights to support this program. On the first Tuesday of every month from 5-8pm, 20% of all cups, cones, sundaes, and shakes are donated. Be sure to mark it on your calendar and come visit me! This past week I tabled out front with my good friend Demetria and educated people on the need for WWG and the AFM.
Demetria and me, promoting Wholesome Wave Georgia and ice cream!
For my friend Demetria, hunger is “when you pray for something, not just food but housing, money, and safety.” She said she was hungry the majority of the time but thinks that the farmers market SNAP doubling program and similar programs are important. Some days, she relies solely on donations from community agencies like Action Ministries’ Our Daily Bread. Starting this season, leftover vegetables at the end of the Athens Farmers Market are donated to their community kitchen. Drew Hooks helps to oversee this program and reports that after the average Saturday market they receive around 25 pounds of food which supplements 150-175 meals throughout the week. This is incredible because most inexpensive, processed food lacks nutritional qualities. These donations help link food waste with food security while ultimately ensuring nutritious meals for at-risk local populations.
Having a system where Demetria and other community members can have access to nutritious, clean, and good food should be paramount in Athens. Reducing food insecurity requires collaboration between government agencies, schools, researchers, nonprofits, farmers, and families. It is my dream that one day we can ensure that Demetria and all Athens citizens have equal access to sustenance. It gives me hope that the Athens Farmers Market and similar programs are doing their part in addressing food insecurity.