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Photo: Scott Warman on Unsplash

How Atlanta is overcoming food deserts

06 July 2021

by Sarah Wray

Atlanta’s latest Fresh Food Access Report shows that 75 percent of city residents now live within half a mile of fresh food – up from 52 percent in 2015.

Around 100,000 residents in low-income areas which had limited access to fresh food have benefited.

The increase follows several measures to address so-called ‘food deserts’ – areas with limited access to a supermarket or grocery store. It’s estimated that approximately 23.5 million Americans live in such neighbourhoods and nearly half of them are also low-income.

Atlanta’s goal is to ensure that at least 85 percent of residents live within half a mile of fresh food by 2022.

“When residents can easily access fresh food, it creates a more healthy, resilient city,” said J. Olu, the City of Atlanta’s Urban Agriculture Director. “The Fresh Food Access Report helps us understand where to target resources as we continue advancing our goal of ensuring a greater and more equitable distribution of fresh food access in the city.”

What worked

Atlanta’s report finds that neighbourhood markets have played a key role in expanding fresh food access to low-income, low-access areas, accounting for 28 percent of the increase. Grocery stores and farmers’ markets have had a smaller but still significant impact.

However, increases in access have been uneven throughout the city, with areas near Midtown seeing the greatest increase in fresh food access, while less densely populated areas in the south and west saw fewer gains.

Further, COVID-19 impacted the local food system in Atlanta by creating challenges with indoor food access, but also opportunities as fresh food sites innovated to adapt to social distancing and move operations outdoors. Food delivery services also expanded during the crisis.

Recommendations

To meet its 85 percent goal, the city is focused on several measures, including allowing on-site sales at urban farms, expanding the MARTA Markets programme, and launching a “healthy corner store” programme.

Legislation is currently being considered that would allow farms to sell food directly to residents.

The city could also create more community urban food forests.

An interactive dashboard shows fresh food locations in Atlanta.

Food access is also one of the core aspects of the ’15-minute city’ vision, which has come to the fore globally in urban planning in light of COVID-19.

Image: Scott Warman on Unsplash

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