ATLeaders on Building Food Literacy and AgTech

September 26, 2018

ATLeaders, the Metro Atlanta Chamber council of young professionals, met September 12 for a discussion on food insecurities, convening a panel of subject matter experts from the City of Atlanta, The Coca-Cola Company, Groundwork Atlanta ...

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ATLeaders, the Metro Atlanta Chamber council of young professionals, met September 12 for a discussion on food insecurities, convening a panel of subject matter experts from the City of Atlanta, The Coca-Cola Company, Groundwork Atlanta and Southern Company.

ATLeaders Food Insecurities Working Group Lead Shannon Price, also Savills Studley managing director, kicked off the meeting with an update on group activities.

“The event last year at the Food Bank was key for ATLeaders. We have been changing our focus from raising awareness on food insecurities to impacting real change in food insecurities,” Price said.

To that end, City of Atlanta Office of Resilience Urban Agriculture Director and IoT.ATL Living Labs Core Team member Mario Cambardella took to the stage to present an overview of recent AgLanta Grows-A-Lot program news, as well as an intro to the four pillars of urban agriculture.

For Cambardella and the Office of Resilience, urban agriculture is about health and nutrition, cultural relevancy, ecological literacy and economic development. All four pillars co-interact through activities like Grows-A-Lot – a program inviting entrepreneurs, nonprofits and residents to apply for a five-year renewable license to adopt a vacant, city-owned property to start a new urban garden or urban farm in “AgLanta.”

Cambardella asked the council members to take a minute and put themselves in the shoes of a family living in a food desert. The implications of urban agriculture would greatly benefit their quality of life.

“Imagine that there is a family that lives in Atlanta and takes 30 minutes to take a bus to get groceries,” Cambardella said. “What does that mean in our own lives? Can we imagine that? Thirty-eight percent of our city lives in a food desert, and the CDC has found correlation of diet-related diseases in [these areas.]”

Resilience, for the City of Atlanta, is ultimately about building “rooted citizens” through urban agriculture and changing the meaning of food access, availability and affordability.

Cambardella welcomed panelists for a deeper dive, including:

  • Kyle Kessler, Center for Civic Innovation community program manager,
  • Noa Davidson, The Coca-Cola Company bridge program director,
  • Jill Arrington, Groundwork Atlanta executive director,
  • and Stan Vangilder, Southern Company Energy Innovation Center.

Kessler spoke to how the Center for Civic Innovation works with the community to provide solutions.

“We provide human and financial capital to help grow businesses and tackle issues they face. That encompasses legal issues, the logistics of growing, the food itself and composting. We also work with doctors, teachers, social workers and more,” Kessler said.

Both Kessler and Davidson represented the cultural relevancy pillar – getting the community united around solutions to food insecurities.

“Three years ago, we started an outreach program around middle school STEM education,” Davidson said. “We need to educate kids so that they learn about tech and then give back to the community.”

Arrington and Groundwork Atlanta are meanwhile committed to building ecological literacy – contributing to citizens’ base knowledge around agriculture. Groundwork Atlanta serves as a kind of project manager and partner on the ground with farmers, helping with the permitting process for establishing gardens.

Arrington spoke to systems that are sometimes taken for granted, like having consistent access to healthy food.

“We all have a plan in place with our employers: time off, retirement, etc. For some children, the basic food security plan is not there – we work to put that plan in place,” Arrington said.

Vangilder and the Southern Company spoke to the economic development implications of urban agriculture. Vangilder currently serves on the core team for IoT.ATL Living Labs, using innovative technology to drive urban agriculture. ATLeaders partners with IoT.ATL on this initiative, which is launching an AgTech Challenge on the Beltline around resiliency solutions. The creation of urban farms provides economic benefit to locals, which previously has gone to waste.

“The most common crop for urban agriculture is lettuce and other leafy greens, but what we’re seeing is that some $138 million is left on the table with local produce that goes to waste. One goal is increasing consumption of local produce,” Vangilder said. “[Eating local produce] helps everyone – growers, consumers, the economy and more.”

The ATLeaders Council concluded with members entering into discussion groups to further engage with the food insecurities issue. ATLeaders continues to ask members and others to engage in support for council topic areas, including transit infrastructure.

“We encourage you to look for more opportunities to engage in volunteerism,” Price said.

ATLeaders will meet next with Cocktails & Co. for a networking event at WeWork on October 3. For more information on ATLeaders, please reach out to Cecile Kirby