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Building Hyper Local Food Systems in Atlanta

by Trinity Harrison

When we talk about nutrition access, we’re talking about what makes a community sustainable. Often the idea of sustainability is relegated to the idea of changing our environmental impacts, but really it’s a whole theory that embodies social, economic, and environmental principles.

Wholesome Wave Georgia received a $500,000 grant from the City of Atlanta in early 2023 to increase nutrition access in the city. Because of this funding, we initiated a project this spring to build local food system infrastructure in the City of Atlanta, which is part of what makes Atlanta a leading model for sustainable city development. We welcomed Trinity Harrison onto our team as our Atlanta Local Food Systems Fellow to connect farmers with small retailers, like convenience stores and mom-and pop grocers, to increase nutrition access to fresh, locally grown food.

The story of this project began in East Atlanta at the family-owned Halal Madina Meat Market. Musa and Sumiyah Sadeeq purchased the store in 2022 and have since taken their vision of a neighborhood food hub to new heights. They have renovated the store, expanded their product selection, and joined Wholesome Wave Georgia as a Fresh for Less program partner in less than a year.

In May we connected Halal Madina with Truly Living Well, a local urban farm, to begin offering pop-ups every Friday. In working closely with the store owners, we learned that Friday afternoons are one of their busiest days. The mosque in the same plaza hosts a parking lot pop-up with a variety of vendors starting at 11am with a bustling crowd, and then prayer lets out at 3pm, so that seemed like a good time to start their own pop-up. After their trial produce pop-up inside the store proved to be a huge success, they continued offering locally grown produce sales hosted by Truly Living Well every Friday from 3pm till 5pm.

Truly Living Well has a rich history in Atlanta as a trailblazing urban farm. Centered around education, Truly Living Well has been the epicenter of urban gardeners, farming operations, and agricultural school programming for 17 years. They’re currently the largest community composting operation in the city and have provided regenerative agriculture education programming for various Atlanta Public Schools, such as Booker T. Washington High School and M. Agnes Jones Elementary School. Mention the name of Truly Living Well to those who know about the farm, and they’ll tell you with joy how the farm has transformed some part of their lives. Truly Living Well is extending this impact by providing local, organic produce to Halal Madina’s customers.

This particular project is special because it’s creating what we call a “hyper-local” food system where food is traveling no more than 9 miles to reach its consumer. Truly Living Well is a mere 1.4 miles from Halal Madina, so the carbon footprint is significantly less than food we see in chain grocery stores, which travels far and wide – we often see tomatoes from Florida next to avocados from California or Mexico. The further the distance the food travels, the more carbon is being emitted from the use of fossil fuels in the transportation process. It’s also more likely that the food was grown and harvested using chemicals to extend its preservation, which has negative impacts on the health of both ecosystems and people.

There is also a need to create a cultural shift for consumers around fresh, healthy, local consumption when starting a produce incentive program like the one budding at Halal Madina. Many people are not familiar with the foods grown seasonally by local farmers, as we’re so accustomed to seeing produce available year-round in big box grocery stores. Many people also don’t purchase unfamiliar foods simply because they’re not sure how to prepare them. That’s why we began introducing cooking demonstrations as an essential tool to making local produce purchases more appealing to shoppers at the Halal Madina pop-ups.

During a pop-up in June, we partnered with Chef Justin Hoyt of SoulBox SoulFood to prepare meals using meat from Halal Madina and produce from Truly Living Well. Previously, many people shied away from buying unfamiliar greens like bok choy, but Chef Hoyt used bok choy, fresh herbs and peppers to prepare three sample meals that were familiar to customers: chimichurri tacos, chicken satay, and ground beef tacos. Children, adults, and elders were lining up for seconds and thirds as he demonstrated how to create chimichurri sauce and chili oils using produce from Truly Living Well’s farm.

The economic impact from this project is also monumental. Halal Madina is Truly Living Well’s first market since the 2020 pandemic, so this partnership has reopened an income stream to support their farmers. And it’s a mutual partnership because their ability to offer produce sales allows Halal Madina to expand their family business while increasing the nutrition of their neighbors. The occasional chef demos also allow local chefs to showcase their dishes and restaurants to potential new diners. Community dollars stay within the City of Atlanta to directly support all of the small businesses who serve our neighbors.

We’re looking forward to using what we’ve learned from developing this partnership with Halal Madina and Truly Living Well to foster new partnerships across the City of Atlanta.

If you’d like to support our work to connect farmers with local stores across Georgia, click here to donate today. Your support makes this work possible!

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