Helping Atlantans eat healthy, local food

Moderated by Rick Badie

The Atlanta Community Food Bank has partnered with a newly formed organization to expand its regional efforts to drive away hunger and improve access to fresh, healthy products. An executive with the Food Well Alliance explains the concept. The other column highlights a Texas-based youth and family nonprofit that has plans to expand to metro Atlanta.

Atlanta’s food movement

By Bobbi de Winter

Atlanta is growing a big opportunity right beneath our feet.

If we take a look across metro Atlanta, we increasingly find a bountiful array of food growers, educators, community organizers, nonprofits, local food entrepreneurs and investors working to address complex issues related to local food. They have become part of what we call Atlanta’s food movement.

These people understand a food movement isn’t all about being a “foodie,” or that it’s just for farmers’ market frequent shoppers. They understand the power a vibrant local food movement possesses to build healthier communities – to transform our food systems and our lives. And if we look at who really is involved in the local food movement, it becomes apparent that if you eat, you’re already playing a part.

The outstanding individuals and organizations leading this movement — from growers and distributors to community gardeners and those who encourage consumption of local food — provide a solid foundation for Atlanta to become a leading city that supports and encourages a resilient, innovative, local food system.

Food keeps us connected to the land, where food comes from, and allows us to enjoy the outdoors, have fun, seek deeper engagement with our community, teach our children better nutrition and address hunger.

But to truly strengthen this movement and find better and more ways to get fresh, local food into the hands of everyone, there is a need for greater collaboration and deeper engagement across the private, public and nonprofit sectors.Food Well Alliance, a newly formed organization in partnership with the Atlanta Community Food Bank, seeks to connect people, ideas and resources around local food. Our goal is to bridge people not just to their food, but to each other.

The James M. Cox Foundation has provided resources for Food Well Alliance to incubate at the Food Bank, which has a reputation for building successful partnerships to address complex problems related to food and hunger. This partnership enhances the Food Bank’s work in fighting hunger and improving access to fresh, healthy food, while providing credibility, stability and wisdom to establish a new table.

The Food Well Alliance model is simple. The alliance will provide a friendly, knowledgeable, productive place for people to come together around common goals and interests. It will provide grants for collaborative, compelling solutions. And it will share and emphasize how local food transforms people’s lives.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting some of the inspiring players in this movement. I’ve seen how health care givers look to local, fresh food as a prescription for healthier outcomes in their patients, and how schools are building gardens as a teaching tool and to develop future environmental stewards. I’ve seen kids experience greater access to fresh, local food at school, college graduates starting urban farms, and innovation centers inviting entrepreneurs to tackle food security issues.

I’ve also met a young, recovering drug addict who now is a thriving urban farmer, a formerly homeless man who regained his dignity just by getting his hands into soil and helping a farm be successful.

So whether you are an entrepreneur, community organizer, community gardener, educator, planner, investor — or you just like to eat — we invite you to help us build healthier communities by supporting the growth of our vibrant local food movement. We invite you to join us at Food Well Alliance.

Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter. Learn more at www.foodwellalliance.org

Bobbi de Winter is executive director of the Food Well Alliance.

Mentor a kid

By Juan Sanchez

People think mentoring a kid is a bigger deal than they can handle. The truth is, when you mentor a kid, you spend a lot of time acting like one — and getting major, grown-up kudos for it.

January is National Mentoring Month. Folks around the country are raising awareness about the importance of positive role models in the life of a child. Dozens of kids in the Atlanta area just need someone to spend about an hour a week with them to do the kinds of things kids do: hang out, play games, talk and have fun. It’s how you show a kid he or she matters, and that can change the world, one kid at a time.

At Southwest Key Programs, where we work with youth who are at risk of involvement in the juvenile justice system, we see the relentless impact of the school-to-prison pipeline on children headed down that path. More often than not, they lack a caring network of adults to advocate for them and help them make better decisions about life, friends and school.

There are so many kids in Atlanta who’d be much better off if someone took some time to connect with them. What would happen if each of those children could have just one person in his or her life as a positive, uplifting and inspiring mentor that challenged them to do better, hope for better and aspire to be more? What if someone decided to give of themselves to make someone else’s future a little brighter and more promising?

Many people complain about “this generation” of kids and how disrespectful they are, or how teenagers don’t care about anything and are apathetic. But what if someone took it upon themselves to inspire these kids? Raising a child is not a one-person show. Were your parents the only ones responsible for the adult you became? Sometimes, we all need our village to give us that extra push to get it right.

According to the MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, if a child has a mentor, that child is 52 percent less likely to skip school, 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, and 27 percent less likely to start drinking.Mentoring works. It changes lives, and not just the life of the child involved. Each day I work with kids at Southwest Key, they teach me something new. The culmination of these lessons helped me become the man I am today. You don’t need a fancy degree. You just need to be yourself and share what you’ve learned from your own life experiences. It’s really that easy.

Atlanta has a new youth mentoring program, thanks to a $1 million federal grant from the Department of Justice. The grant comes as the Atlanta metro area is experiencing a shortage of volunteers. This shortage has left many kids, particularly young men of color, with nowhere to turn. The Southwest Key Youth Mentoring Program is helping connect these kids with men and women like you for a one-hour-­a-week commitment that lasts one year.

Southwest Key has worked in the Atlanta area for more than 10 years, providing alternatives to incarceration programs for youth. We have been mentoring in other parts of the United States for years and are excited to bring this evidence-based program to Atlanta. Our free mentoring program here launched Jan. 1. We are working with school counselors and probation officers to recruit youth who are at risk of involvement with the juvenile justice system and could benefit from a caring mentor relationship.

So get involved, make a difference, change a life and grow as a person. Mentor a child today.

For more information, contact Atlanta program director Kelly Graham, kgraham@swkey.org, or go to: http://www.swkey.org/programs/mentoring/

Juan Sanchez is president and CEO of Texas-based Southwest Key Programs.


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