Just nearly a year ago I went to see Jon Fasman from The Economist speak in Atlanta about “why it’s expensive to be poor“, and he spoke specifically about food deserts. This was a concept I’d never heard of before—in nutshell, a food desert is an area of a city or town where the residents don’t have reasonable access to fresh meat and produce. Specifically, they live in a region that is more than one mile away from a grocery store. Usually, these residents only have access to crappy mini marts with Honey Buns and Twinkies as their sustenance. They can’t call Uber (and even if they can, a $15 trip is precious cash to a low income family), and when they do make the trek to a grocery store, it takes several hours of grueling transit that could be spent doing other things.
Families who live in food deserts are more likely to die from food related diseases like heart disease and diabetes. They are woefully underserved when it comes to nutritional balance.
While delving into this, I started to notice a pattern in the way grocery stores are laid out in Atlanta. See if you can spot it below:
The base map shows income distribution in the city. In the north, you have Buckhead, Brookhaven, etc. In the south end you have Cascade and Lakewood Heights. Supermarkets like Trader Joe’s, Fresh Market, and surprisingly Publix are clustered heavily in the northern, considerably richer area. The southern end only has discount food marts like Giant Foods and Wayfield Foods—and when they exist, there are less of them. I’d wager that you don’t even need an income map to look at wealth in a city. Just see where the grocery stores are. Where do you shop?
This concept struck me like a slap in the face. I was so enamored, so in awe of how lucky I am to live in easy walking distance of several grocery stores. I don’t even need to walk, I’m massively lucky to even own a car. I couldn’t get it out of my head. A week later, I emailed Jon to ask if it was possible to have a food shuttle that drives around these areas to get people to grocery stores. He responded quickly, said it was a great idea and gave me some pointers on how to start such a pilot project. My first hurdle was cost—who’s going to rent a shuttle? Who’s going to drive it? How will we pay for insurance, and promote the service to these areas? This idea painfully took a backseat to the other projects I had going on. I read more about food deserts.
Fast forward to December 2014—Ryan forwarded me a grant competition in Atlanta that perfectly aligned with the goals of the food shuttle project. Re-energized, I got back in touch with Jon, and he was thrilled to hear about it. To bring the concept for my pitch home, I began working on some basic branding for what a shuttle could look like:
Developed those sketches into nine logos:
And then chose #4 to run with, based on the E for Eats, a grocery cart, all wrapped up in an apple. I wanted to mock up this shuttle and couldn’t find a technical drawing I liked, so I made one (you can click to enlarge):
I put together some maps of food desert areas based on the USDA’s data on the topic:
According to the map, the pink areas are food deserts in the city (the gray shape is the actual city, the rest is marked by the perimeter). The black dots with a gray circle signify a Kroger or Publix (Kroger is darker and more common), and the circle signifies a mile radius around them. You can start to see the rationale for a food desert. I put together route maps and looked at demographic + population data in the area. A couple days before the grant was due I managed to get in touch with the regional director of the NECRC in Winnipeg, Manitoba (that’s Canada, y’all), and we had a long phone call discussing details and logistics. The way she described their food shuttle seemed so simple, it makes so much sense to have one here. She told me how much of a difference it’s made in the area.
I spent several hours on Sunday putting together my pitch video—it’s all one take, and took forever to get right.
Update: Didn’t get it. They prioritized groups who already had nonprofits established in the city, not new ideas like I thought was the point. Oh well, onward and upward!