The Power of Partnership: Interview with the Georgia Food Oasis Program

by FCS on

Providing access to healthy food options was a major motivation for starting Carver Market in South Atlanta. From the beginning, Georgia Food Oasis Program has been an amazing partner for launching innovated programs to encourage healthy food choices in our neighborhood. We recently sat down with Cicely Garrett, a Food Systems Innovator Manager at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, to share a bit more about their work.

FCS: Hi, Cicely. Can you introduce the Atlanta Community Food Bank and Georgia Food Oasis Program?

Cicely Garrett (CG): Sure. The Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB) is the backbone supporting organization in a collaborative effort of community organizations, business, and donors to improve fresh and healthy food distribution in underserved neighborhoods.

The Georgia Food Oasis Program more specifically helps communities develop innovative and affordable ways for residents to discover, taste, and learn about food. By working together, neighbors, nonprofits, and community leaders can help community members shop smarter, eat healthier, and feel better.

FCS: What current projects is Food Oasis focusing on in Atlanta?

CG: One recent project has been launching our Eat – Cook – Grow strategy. This project focuses on enhancing opportunities for residents to come together and learn how to cook up their own food future. Currently, we’ve started with a pilot location on the Westside of Atlanta, but the goal is to replicate the program throughout the state of Georgia. Over the next 3 years, ACFB will expand Food Oasis throughout the City of Atlanta currently working in Westside, Southwest, and Old Fourth Ward, while Georgia Organics focuses on expanding Food Oasis throughout the state.

FCS: How did you get involved in South Atlanta with Carver Market?

CG: FCS Ministries is a long-term Food Bank partner agency. In the fall of 2014, Jeff Delp, floated the idea to Jon West and me of converting FCS’ former thrift store (South Atlanta Marketplace) into a grocery store. While we thought the idea was great, we weren't overly optimistic that it could be pulled off in such a short period of time.

But the FCS community proved us wrong.

And in 2015, when Carver Market was ready to launch, we began to have conversations about how we could best support the store. Jeff wanted to encourage more customers using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to shop at the store. I had wanted to test out our program doubling SNAP benefits for produce purchases in a small to mid-size retail location.

We created a 2:1 SNAP produce offer that would encourage SNAP recipients to shop at Carver Market. Our partnership was a win-win situation. When the store opened, we also joined with FCS to host some cooking demos, which were a big hit and introduced shoppers to new ideas for using healthy foods!

FCS: What would you say have been some of the most successful programs in South Atlanta?

CG: The 2 for 1 SNAP on produce has definitely been a success, and not just for SNAP users, but also for increasing the overall sales of produce for the store. Additionally, the in-store demos have allowed residents to meet local celebrity chefs like G. Garvin and to taste and rediscover food in new ways.

In August, we held the Smoothie Contest for high school students and it was a great event to continue engaging consumers of all ages. We’re looking forward to offering Cooking Matters classes soon, a collaborative partnership with Open Hand Atlanta, Captain Planet and Ashley Rouse of Maynard Jackson Rooftop Garden.

FCS: What is upcoming for Food Oasis?

CG: The Georgia Food Oasis-Atlanta (GFOA) is excited about out new Neighborhood Collaboration Teams launching this fall. The goal of GFOA is to provide support for collaboration and resident driven solutions to improving fresh and healthy food access in their communities. Westside (English Avenue, Vine City, & Bankhead) and South Atlanta will be our first neighborhoods to have collaboration teams.  

The plan is for groups of 9-11 people, both residents and organizations with an interest in improving fresh and healthy food options in the community, to meet weekly. These groups will spend 6-8 weeks identifying priorities and creating an action plan for increasing fresh and healthy food access in their community for the next 12-18 months. Participants will receive a stipend of $250 for their time.

FCS: What are your hopes for communities and the health initiatives of Food Oasis?

CG: My hope it that we have created a model that is both sustainable and repeatable in providing support to other communities who want to organize and redesign their food landscape. I would like for all communities - regardless of zip code - to have access to healthy choices and feel empowered to know how to cook and eat well.  

We share a common hope for our community here in South Atlanta. We are grateful for the ongoing partnership with Cecily and the team at Georgia Food Oasis. Follow FCS and Carver Neighborhood Market on Facebook to see upcoming news and events.  

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