Sustainable South: Atlanta’s Food Desert

Photo by Audra Melton, courtesy of The Guardian.
Photo by Audra Melton, courtesy of The Guardian.

Hang out with the Southern Foodways Alliance long enough and you learn that we base each year’s programming around a theme. Throughout the year, staff gravitate toward articles, research, and conferences that speak to the theme. Then we enthusiastically share whatever it is we found with the rest of the team: “Did you see that fantastic article in so-and-so magazine?!” So it goes.

This article in Atlanta Magazine is one of those pieces disseminated across SFAWHQ.

In our year of studying inclusion and exclusion at the Southern table, this article deserves to be added to your reading list. Not to mention, our featured oral history of the week showcases women who farm in Georgia. Stayed tuned all week to listen to a new voice featured each day.

Published in the March 2014 issue, Rebecca Burns examines the factors underlying Atlanta’s food deserts. Transportation poses the greatest challenge behind the city’s food access. She asserts, “Our low population density combined with a lack of comprehensive public transit means many people simply cannot get to places where fresh food is available.”

“When you talk about Atlanta’s food deserts, you have to talk about the three themes entwined in every civic issue in this region: race, class, and sprawl.”

In Atlanta’s west side, “a microcosm of the region’s food desert dilemma,” there exists a beacon of hope: Shoppers Supermarket. Housed in Simpson Plaza since the 1960s, the grocery has witnessed the neighborhood’s transformation. In the 1960s, the underserved were malnourished and severely underweight. Today, the underserved are still malnourished, but overweight.

In a study by a Georgia State University masters student, only half of the 20 stores in the area stocked produce, and those that did carried only apples and bananas. Shoppers Supermarket is the neighborhood’s only grocery to provide variety, serving 17 types of vegetables and eight kinds of fruit.

Ironically, Atlanta’s west side boasts one of the highest densities of urban agriculture in the entire city. Unfortunately, the farms often export their produce to other, more affluent parts of town.

Read more of Burns’ piece in Atlanta Magazine here. And don’t forget to check out these oral histories we collected in and around Atlanta last year of women who farm.