A New Model for Healthier Communities

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(Editor's Note: It's National Nutrition Month and we're highlighting the things we are doing to provide more nutritious, healthy options for the communities we serve. This article originally appeared in our Spring 2014 issue of Foodsharing. To learn more about Foodsharing, please visit our Newsletters page.)

A truck arrives in the early morning and boxes of locally grown fresh produce from the State Farmers Market are quickly unloaded. Tables are set up under the orange dappled leaves of an early fall day and baskets are piled high with sweet potatoes, squash and cabbage, just to name a few. People begin milling around to look the produce over; talking, swapping recipes and tasting samples. A community is coming together to share food, stories and a common ground.

That idyllic scene could describe a farmers market taking place in late October across much of North Georgia. However, this one isn’t happening on the town square but in the parking lot of the Coweta Community Food Pantry. A similar scene played out the week before at the HFL Resources food pantry in Senoia and would happen again a few days later in the heart of Newnan at the First Baptist Church Newnan food pantry.

Like most resource limited food pantries, these groups often struggle to provide the types of nutritious foods that help individuals, particularly children and seniors, live healthy, thriving lives.  Hosting these "market style" distributions of fresh, free produce clients is one way they are partnering with ACFB to improve the nutritional quality of the food they provide.

Here are three reasons we are really excited about this model:

First, low income families struggle in the same way we all do to eat nutritionally.  However, they also have the added hurdle of less money for groceries, and in many cases, limited access to fresh foods.  These produce distributions give us the opportunity to offer an “injection” of high nutrition into client diets. They also offer the power of choice over which and how much produce they select (everyone has a different idea of what a ripe tomato looks like!) to meet their unique needs.

Second, they create space where relationships can be built that lead to stronger, more resilient communities. Janice Giddens, ACFB’s Nutrition and Wellness Program Manager, sets up a tasting station to hand out recipe cards and samples, encouraging people to try new foods while answering their diet related health questions. Neighbors talk to neighbors in ways that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. An out of work carpenter leaves with a job after a conversation over soup samples with a volunteer. A down-on-his-luck graduate from culinary school gets so excited talking about the prospect of fresh produce for the week that he leaves behind his traditional pantry box of canned goods. Providing high quality, nutritious food in a way that communicates respect to our neighbors allows the gifts of a community to be seen and shared!

Third, it allows us to invest in and support Georgia farmers. ACFB is now distributing more fresh produce than any other category of food! As we strive to distribute even more in the future, we are purchasing more produce rather than relying solely on the limited supplies we receive as donations. Whenever possible, we support Georgia farmers by purchasing Georgia grown produce. The launch of this new model of produce distribution was made possible by a generous donation from the Katz Foundation. The Katz family wanted to invest in improving the nutritional quality of food available to hungry Coweta County residents while supporting Georgia farmers and local food systems. Recognizing that the health of our local communities is literally rooted in the health of our local food systems, we know that supporting Georgia farmers is an investment in the future of our communities.

We look forward to more opportunities to partner with ACFB agencies to build healthier communities in Coweta and beyond.

-Jon West, Community Building Manager