Featured photo of the South Augusta Farmer’s Market courtesy Growing Augusta: Arts, Agriculture and Agency Facebook page
With large swaths of Richmond County in food deserts, food insecurity is an issue for many in the area.
But on Saturday, a group of people from various segments of the community – nonprofit heads, food growers, ranchers, volunteers and faith-based groups – will come together for a second time to strategize additional ways to combat hunger in Augusta.
“This is a grassroots effort,” said Karen Gordon, who started Growing Augusta: Arts, Agriculture and Agency several years ago and has expanded her reach to include this new platform for greater food access.
Last year, she started a Farmer’s Market in south Augusta, but she realized that Farmer’s Market alone wasn’t enough. As she heads into this market season, she’s facing additional challenges including the lack of a location as the Henry Brigham Community Center on Golden Camp Road, where the market was held last year, is being renovated.
The Golden Harvest Food Bank, which recently served its 300 millionth meal, estimates that one in eight people in the 25 counties it serves suffers from food insecurity.
Augusta has multiple food desert regions.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a food desert is “a tract in which at least 100 households are located more than one-half mile from the nearest supermarket and have no vehicle access.”
The closure of the 15th Street Kroger in 2017 heralded the start of a food desert in the downtown urban area according to news reports at the time. The corporation cited lack of profits for its closure. It later closed its Deans Bridge Road location impacting people in south Augusta.
Through this collaboration, Gordon is bringing together others who work to provide food access to find solutions.
Only yards away from the site of the former Kroger location is the HUB for Community Innovation which houses Augusta Locally Grown. The organization offers its own farmer’s markets inside its space. Another farmer’s market is in the Laney Walker neighborhood, and the Saturday Market at Riverwalk has growers at its location.
“In the urban downtown core, that’s not too bad. If I live in Harrisburg, I’ve got a market there. If I live in Olde Town, I can walk to the one on Eighth Street downtown. If I live in Bethlehem, I can walk to the one on Laney Walker, but I live in Goshen. Our farmers’ market is off Deans Bridge Road. I couldn’t walk there if I wanted,” said Shawn Edwards, executive director of the Augusta Georgia Land Bank Authority. Gordon has been part of the land bank’s board for several years and enlisted Edwards’ expertise.
Edwards cited one of the biggest hurdles people face when it comes to food insecurity.
“Food is not an issue in really the CSRA, but specifically Richmond County. It is the ability to get to food,” he said.
Edwards said this newest collaboration was born out of conversations not with those facing food insecurity, but with an urban farmer about problems with getting crops from gardens to people’s tables because there are disconnects from that side as well. Also a farmer can’t necessarily spend days at a market because a farmer has crops to tend.
Gordon called the first meeting in December an icebreaker.
“The first meeting had about 35-40 people, and we had some really robust conversations,” Gordon said.
Edwards said the first meeting didn’t have any type of agenda. It was designed as an open-ended conversation to acquire information to address hunger issues in the community.
The second meeting is billed as a work session. Plans are to have breakout groups to identify resources and coordinate efforts where available and put together a course of action.
Gordon isn’t sure where the process will lead. Maybe a food council will be born or what she’d really like to see is a food co-op, but how that would materialize depends on the outcomes from these sessions.
Edwards said a food co-op initiative would need the backing of business partners.
To learn more, email Gordon at email@example.com
Charmain Z. Brackett is the publisher of Augusta Good News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe to the newsletter here.