With very few healthy food choices at the grocery store, Georgia Organics started the conversation Wednesday on ways to improve and expand healthy food access in Columbus.
---- Columbus is one of three cities taking part in a pilot project to gather information on the Georgia Food Oasis with a focus on eating, cooking and growing healthy food. About 50 people, including some gardeners, farmers and other concerned residents, tossed around ideas about food and access during a gathering at the W.C. Bradley Museum. Other cities taking part in the program are Augusta and an unnamed city in northeast Georgia.
---- Alice Rolls, executive director of the Georgia Organics, said the mission of the nonprofit organization is to connect food from Georgia farmers to Georgia families.
---- “When you see an entire fourth-grade class chowing down on sauteed kale, you know you are on to something,” she said. “When kids have that experience and opportunity, they are excited about it.”
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---- Rolls said the food system currently in place is making people sick. Growing food is hard on the land, resources and takes lots of chemicals.
---- “Food is so global, we lost all the local connections,” she said. “It is relooking at assets and how do we reconnect for health, jobs and farming. That is what this conversation is about.”
---- Residents at the meeting were split into four or five at each table to offer ideas about healthy food. Owen Ditchfield, a longtime grower of peppers on a lot in Oakland Park and a Market Days regular in downtown, said more gardens are needed in school where children can pull weeds or see fresh carrots. “You are teaching them,” Ditchfield said.
---- Each group focused on eat, cook and grow when it comes to food. Suzanne Girdner of Georgia Organics said each person fills out a ballot on the topic that’s most important. In Augusta, the city selected eat as the top interest of the three. “We identify priority areas,” she said. “It’s not meant to be exhaustive but to get ideas flowing.”
---- Each topic may mean something different to everyone. “Columbus could also decide that we want to focus on eat,” Girdner said. “We want to go through a behavioral change. We want to encourage people to cook at home more.”
---- After collecting ideas from the working groups, Georgia Organics will return for more meetings in January and March. Officials should have enough information on where the city would like to focus its efforts on food.