Illustrations by Nat Slaughter
A 2nd-grader at an elementary school in one of Atlanta’s low-income neighborhoods held up a strawberry and eyed it with intense suspicion.
He bit into it slowly, cautiously, and his judgmental taste buds went to work. Suddenly his young face bloomed and he popped the rest of the red berry into his mouth. When he finished chewing, he said, “I thought strawberry was that jelly stuff inside Pop-Tarts.”
It was his first real strawberry, harvested from a nearby farm for a Georgia Organics farm to school event. Technically speaking, he has had real strawberry before. Kellogg’s Frosted Strawberry Pop-Tarts contain 10 percent real fruit. The rest of the “strawberry-flavored goodness,” as Kellogg’s describes it, and the pastry that surrounds it is a mix of 43 other ingredients.
Some are as harmless and simple as sugar. Many others are unpronounceable, and three additives are on several lists of harmful ingredients that should be avoided. The plus side is that a 6-pack of Pop-Tarts, which includes 12 pastries, costs about $4. By any measure, paying $4 for six breakfasts is a good deal.
The Pop-Tart is just one example of the accomplishments of modern industry, a food system capable of manufacturing cheap, affordable food. Generally, the food system refers to the growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, distributing, and marketing of food. It also includes the input products,things like chemical fertilizers, insecticides, cardboard cereal boxes, Big Gulp cups and straws, and the wax grocery store apples are coated with. It runs on fossil fuels, which are used to manufacture chemical fertilizers, and the processing, transporting, and packaging of food products.
CLICK HERE TO SEE A SYSTEMS VISUALIZATION OF THE FOOD SYSTEM CREATED FOR GEORGIA ORGANICS BY NAT SLAUGHTER, OF SLAUGHTER STUDIOS.
The food system is about industry and efficiency, which are two endeavors American businesses mastered long ago. For instance, efficiencies are so great that farmers receive an average of only 11.6 cents for every dollar spent on food at a traditional grocery store, according to the U.S.D.A. The rest of that dollar went to processing, packaging, transportation, distribution, retail trade, and food service, which includes any place that prepares meals, snacks, and beverages for immediate consumption. Most crops are grown to be shipped someplace else. Most consumers eat food grown someplace else, even though the land around them is suited for their food needs. Food is commodity that is shipped and traded.
Here’s a local example. The average Georgian eats about 30 pounds of fresh lettuce per year – that’s about 285 million pounds – yet the state grows less than 245,000 pounds per year. That gap is enormous, and could be a huge economic gain for many farmers.
The food system’s emphasis on high calorie processed foods also has health consequences. The youngest Americans are part of the first generation in history that are expected to have a shorter life span than their parents, mainly because of food related chronic diseases, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Over the past year, Georgia Organics has undertaken an extensive planning process, including in-depth discussions with community leaders, members and other stakeholders on the organization’s past, present, and future. The final product, a 5-year Strategic Plan, brings a fundamental shift to Georgia Organics that addresses components of the food system in a totally new way.
Georgia Organics has a new mission statement: We connect organic food from Georgia farms to Georgia families. A new vision: All Georgians eat organic food from local farms, transforming our health, our environment, and our economy. We’ve established these indicators, which will allow us to quantify the success of our efforts over the next five years.
• Increase the number of organic and sustainable farmers in rural and urban areas.
• Increase the number of children participating in farm to school programs.
• Increase the number of Georgians eating organically grown, local food.
We also have a new set of core values that function as a moral compass for the organization; see them here.
“Historically, we solely focused on farmer education, and this will remain the backbone of the organization,” says Georgia Organics Executive Director Alice Rolls. “However, we’ve realized, at the encouragement of our farm members, that we have to look at the food system in new ways. We can’t help farmers without political power and consumer awareness, so that’s where we are headed.”
One example of this new focus is our advocacy work on behalf of independent farmers who want to raise pastured poultry. We’re also making sure that you’re educated and active on the most important piece of legislation affecting food and agriculture, the Farm Bill.
Our Farm to School Program is some of our most challenging and rewarding work. Parents are asking for farm to school programs, for the sake of their children’s health. There are now 159 schools in the state that have some element of a farm to school program in place. Each of those schools represents another chance for a student to sink their teeth into their first strawberry.
Finally, Advocacy Director Jennifer Owens is leading a Farm Bill campaign that will give you the opportunity to engage ur elected officials and support a more localized food system. We won’t be able to impact change without your help.
“I genuinely believe there is an appetite for change among leaders and an historic opportunity for change is just within reach. We are not a lone voice any more,” says Owens. “The first lady of Georgia didn’t take a meeting with us just to be nice. She grew up on a farm, she is a mom, she was a teacher, and she has a fantastic advocate as a chef of more local and organic food in the Governor’s mansion. Most importantly, she recognizes this is a huge issue facing Georgia, and she wants to be a part of the solution.”