West Aspect Teams are banding collectively to convey extra wholesome meals choices to Austin
AUSTIN – Someday, instead of a food desert, Austin will be a food oasis with healthy restaurants and grocery stores or markets within walking distance.
The Austin Eats Initiative envisions this airy future. It has brought together 22 West Side neighborhood groups dedicated to building an abundance of fresh markets, restaurants, community gardens and grocery stores in the neighborhood.
“The vision is for everyone to work together to ensure everyone has a truly healthy relationship with food,” said Ethan Ramsay, senior organizer of Austin Coming Together, the group that led the effort.
The initiative grew out of the Austin Quality-of-Life Plan, a community-created blueprint of strategies for addressing issues such as public health, crime, education, and the local economy.
With a key goal being to increase food accessibility in Austin, more than 20 groups have come together under the Austin Eats Initiative to fund projects already working on improving food access and sharing ways to build it to develop a community with healthy and affordable food.
“It’s an initiative by local residents, but also organizations large and small, working to redesign the food ecosystem in Austin,” said Ramsay.
The initiative’s partners work together through working groups that each address a component of Austin’s food ecosystem, Ramsay said.
Pantry and free grocery programs are part of an emergency grocery working group that aims to “develop a more coordinated grocery delivery system for people who may not be able to go to the grocery store,” Ramsay said.
A working group on access to food is addressing the shortage of supermarkets in the region. The group is stepping up projects such as the Forty Acres grocery store under development and the Austin City Farmers Market.
Recognition: ProvidedLiz Abunaw, founder of Forty Acres Fresh Market, is developing a grocery store in Austin.
The Gardens and Farms Working Group coordinates efforts to expand green spaces, community gardens and urban agriculture to improve the opportunities for residents to grow their own food. A flagship goal is the development of an urban farm and wellness hub in Austin.
A nutrition education working group organizes events, programs, food demonstrations, demonstrations, and other resources to empower residents to make informed decisions about their eating habits.
A culinary entrepreneurship working group is developing strategies for building a local economy that welcomes food companies, restaurants, bakeries and caterers who have community stakes and an end result that is beyond profit, Ramsay said.
Many Austin organizations had already worked independently to bring healthy food to Austin. However, by working together, the groups can share resources and expertise to fill in gaps where residents are not being cared for and to maximize each group’s impact on their target audience.
Local teenagers who wanted their neighbors to have an affordable place to buy fresh produce started the Austin Harvest Pop-up Market. But when they have extra fruits and vegetables that are not sold, the teenagers donate the products to pantries, such as the Jehovah Jireh Outreach Ministry, which helps people in need of food aid.
The collective was also helpful with food gifts organized by the John Walt Foundation, said Nachelle Pugh, co-founder of the youth arts organization.
“If you’re having an event or doing some kind of sales and don’t have what you need, everyone is going to help figure out how we can make sure we get this stuff,” said Pugh. “You never have to worry about being able to provide for the community we all serve together. “
The collaborative approach enables the Austin Eats Initiative to meet people where they are by including food in programs that reach every corner of the community, Pugh said.
“If we want to serve the youth, we must serve the whole family because there is a mother, grandma or father who takes care of the children. We give them free arts education, but at home they might be hungry, ”Pugh said.
Through different approaches to rethinking Austin’s food ecosystem, working together can more robustly address the social and historical circumstances that have depleted the neighborhood of healthy food options, said Aaron Allen, community relations coordinator for the Austin Community Food Co-Op.
“Decades of divestments in Austin and the West Side have created this deep food insecurity problem. People are now describing it as food apartheid … because it recognizes that certain neighborhoods like Austin have been deprived of a lot of resources that would have resulted in a healthier environment, “Allen said.
As the co-op will be owned by the residents, it will be a way for the community to own and control a resource that people rely on to meet their basic needs, Allen said.
Last year, one of Austin’s only grocery stores, Save A Lot, suddenly left the neighborhood, meaning residents had less healthy food options. The sudden shutdown made it clear that Austin’s food ecosystem must be rooted in the community, Allen said.
“It doesn’t matter to them whether the community has what they need to thrive. They just worry about making money, ”Allen said. The cooperative will bring fresh fruit and produce to the neighborhood, “but there will also be an opportunity to own the resource and hopefully make it more sustainable.”
But a food coop alone is not enough, said Allen. The Austin Eats Initiative must be comprehensive and incorporate many approaches to end food shortages, he said.
“It’s about meeting the community where it is,” he said. “Many need emergency food. As part of the cooperative, this is also a major obligation. So there must be other options if you don’t want to join the cooperative. “
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