A food desert, according to the USDA, is a district with little or no access to foods needed to maintain a healthy diet, but which is often served by plenty of fast food restaurants.
Such areas tend to be populated by low-income families who have limited access to large supermarkets or grocery stores, and who cannot afford to buy fresh food because of a limited, often food stamp-based, budget.
We have all heard about the staggering poverty and unemployment rates that impact Georgians each year, and the numbers are even more jarring in Athens alone.
Athens Online reported that nearly half of the nearly 800 residents living in downtown Athens are recieving low income wages or even less, not to mention those who are unemployed completely.
As much as we love this vibrant college town, there is no denying that is has all the attributes of a full-fledged food desert: a high-poverty area where large numbers of people live more than a mile from a supermarket.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the number of people in Georgia who receive food stamps reached 1.9 million this past April - nearly 20 percent of the population. Political implications aside, these numbers suggest a serious threat to the health of Georgia’s residents.
The problem is that while most agree that food stamps are successful at reducing food insecurity, some wonder if the program is nutritionally beneficial to its recipients.
Should a healthy diet be considered a luxury, only to be enjoyed by those who can afford it? With all the studies that link healthy eating to greater academic success, better athletic performance and longer, healthier lives, it seems irrational that some have more convenient and better access to nutritious foods than others with less means.
Luckily, when there is a problem, often a dedicated movement of activists taking steps to break it down and design thoughtful, creative solutions. In this case, that movement is called Wholesome Wave.
The concept is simple: the value of food stamps is doubled if the recipients use them to purchase fresh, local produce at participating producer-only farmers markets.
The Wholesome Wave Double Value Coupon Program (DVCP) provides low income consumers with valuable incentives that match the value of their food stamps when they shop nutritionally and sustainably directly from small, local farmers and food producers.
In addition to providing food stamp recipients with healthy options for groceries, the DVCP generates considerable economic stimulus by leveraging existing federal programs with privately raised dollars to boost local businesses.
The program, which was launched in several cities across the US in 2008, now reaches 60 partners in 25 states and the District of Columbia, over 300 farm-to-retail venues, and almost 2,500 farmers. Here in Georgia, the program operates as Wholesome Wave Georgia, an independent branch of the national organization, with 14 partner markets across the state.
Among these partner markets is the Athens Farmers Market, which is committed to increasing both racial and economic diversity in its customer base each week. The program has been tremendously successful in our community - since 2010, the Athens Farmers Market has doubled over $55,000 in EBT dollars. That's $110,000 in good food to the underserved and $110,000 for our local farmers!
With the growth of the program come concerns with funding it. In order to sustain this significant effort, it will be increasingly important that we support the program from within our local community.
This October, the Athens Farmers Market will be hosting its 2nd Annual Autumn Harvest Feast fundraiser, benefitting our DVCP through Wholesome Wave Georgia.
The delicious, philanthropic evening will take place on Tuesday, October 16, from 4-7pm, and will feature live music by String Theory, silent auctions and cuisine presented by many of Athens’ most esteemed chefs, including:
Peter Dale - The National
Dean Neff - Five and Ten
Jessica Rothacker - Heirloom Cafe
Whitney Otawka - Farm 255
Aaron Phillips - The Last Resort Grill
Josh Aaron - The Savory Spoon
Sarah Dunning - Formerly of Gymnopedie
Matt Palmerlee - The Branded Butcher
Mimi Maumus - home.made catering
Emmanuel Stone - Harry's Pig Shop
Buy your tickets now - click here - and bring the whole family to support the Athens Farmers Market participation in the Wholesome Wave movement. Together we can provide healthy and nutritious food to all Athens residents.