Grand opening of the Aldi grocery store in August, Georgia. Because of the food desert in Black neighborhoods, the mostly African American patrons started lining up at 6 a.m. to get into a store that opened at 9 a.m. Photo credit: Cassandra Loftlin

Fcuk the Food System. Dan Scott advocates to use ‘the original digital currency’ urban food desert

Food deserts are man-made fallacies for Scott. His idea pushes for SNAP programs to allow EBT users to buy seeds and plantlings to start community gardens to grow their own healthy foods.

Black residents of Augusta, Georgia in Richmond County are in a constant struggle to gain access to healthy food. Augusta, which is the second largest city in the state, is a mixture of both rural and metropolitan landscapes, but has a common thread running through the households of African Americans—the uncertainties of food security.

The city’s bi-weekly farmer’s markets, food pantries, and other charitable efforts are not enough to support the increased nutritional needs of Black residents living in marginalized neighborhoods. State and regional organizations, while well funded and fully staffed, are ill-equipped to address food apartheid.

A central component of the issue is that local officials fail in displaying an awareness of the cultural influences on Black residents’ food choices. Even more of an irony, while African American food and agricultural traditions are the foundation of the U.S. food systems and culinary style, today there is such a disrespect to their legacy. So much so, that there is an absence in the establishment’s program to cultivate methods and programs that creatively grow and distribute fresh fruits and vegetables, all the while, supporting and preserving Black foodways.  

As a chef, a native of Augusta, and a community leader, it is disquieting by the increasing lack of access to fresh food. To add to the disturbing challenges, there are economic and transportation hurdles faced by Black residents who must travel to white food oases in their attempts to access healthy foods. The racial wealth gap between Blacks and whites is very palpable, so it becomes even more of a problem when those who are financially the most vulnerable, are forced to pay above and beyond those who enjoy economic security are budgeting for what I see as a human right: eating clean, high quality food.

What I am describing is a food desert: an area where there is limited or no access to healthy food. The insecurity results in a plethora of public health, economic and social issues in these unhealthy foodscapes. More ironically, cities like Augusta are surrounded by farming. So why is there a food desert?

Focusing on racism as it relates to hunger and malnutrition in Richmond County, I conducted a study to better understand how to support Black neighborhoods experience low income and low access to healthy foods. The conclusion is that the local food system in Black neighborhoods can be rebuilt using an action plan based on five critical objectives: 

  1. Support, sponsor, and encourage community gardening 
  2. Create local, resident-run food co-oops
  3. Establish centrally located supermarkets that carry local products and produce 
  4. Prioritize improved public transportation
  5. A moratorium on the construction of new ‘dollar stores’ 

This installment will take an intimate view of Dan Scott, a local activist who is gradually entering the electoral political ring. Scott focused on supporting food security and land conservation through community gardening.

Realized resistance: Soil, water, gardening, and EBT

This past November, Dan Scott ran as a candidate as the Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor for the Brier Creek region. As an urban farmer and agricultural activist, he has a vested interest in how water and soil are managed and protected: “Urban agriculture is the number one solution to fight food deserts,” said Scott when explaining the main points of his campaign.

In 2016, Scott was introduced to agriculture through the Atlanta-based organization, Helping Africa by Establishing Schools at Home and Abroad (HABESHA). The prominent organization has design programs and advocacy centering organic agriculture, sustainable energy technology, and green living. Last year, they opened a sustainable institute in Ghana to further their pan-African lens. For Scott, he transported HABESHA’s practices and philosophies to Richmond County.

| Read: Evolution of cornbread

During the recent Greater Augusta Regional Agricultural Forum, Scott made it clear that “it is up to us to make sure that we are receiving our fair share of state-funded conservation resources that were already approved in the Farm Bill of 2018.” The agricultural legislation Scott referred to is the USDA’s mandate to invest millions of dollars in regional conservation programs.

According to the agricultural agency, the efforts were to assist in improving “water and air quality, conserv[e] ground and surface water, reduce soil erosion and sedimentation, and improv[e] or creat[e] wildlife habitat.” Yet, those programs’ or dollars have not made it to Black urban communities such as Augusta.

More problematic, every county in Georgia has a conversation supervisor who is white. His run was to raise the voices and visibility of Black Georgians and also call to task how these communities have been direly overlooked in receiving any of the U.S.D.A. farm bill monies.

Because Black residents like those in Augusta and the larger Richmond County go ignored, Scott recently reframed the conversation regarding undernourished and underserved communities with this statement: “There is no such thing as food deserts, there are only fool’s deserts.” 

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Dan Scott visits Garden City Grocer, a small market selling food and hair/body care. Photo credit: Courtesy of Dan Scott Facebook page

I had the opportunity to sit down with Scott to unpack his views. He further explained that “the definition of a ‘food desert’ no longer has merit, especially when we consider that the demographic most likely found in these areas can buy seeds and fruit-bearing plants with an EBT card.”  Citing EBT cards as the original digital currency, his idea is to use it to purchase the essentials needed in launching urban patches throughout Augusta neighborhoods. Both brilliant and radical, Scott has made some uneasy, but many supportive of an idea that is simple, yet will yield enormous progress.

But there is a catch, the shift must occur in residents who have the land to grow what they eat rather than depend on a big retail grocer or corner store to supply them with healthy produce.

In short, Scott’s vision is to eliminate the barrier between communities and fresh food through backyard gardening, community gardens, and farming co-ops. Though, he was not one to sit back and wait for the November election to put his plan into motion. In 2019, he started a pilot project to change a vacant, blighted abandoned lot into a community garden.

| Read: Deeper than poundcake: My journey to becoming a chef

The pandemic slowed it down, but did not stop progress as he continued to maintain the area as a green space, successfully secure financing for the plot, as well as securing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) authorization for the project–meaning that local residents would be able to purchase produce, seeds, seedling, and fruit bearing trees using an their SNAP benefits with an Electronic Benefits (EBT) Card. 

Scott’s vision is to use the urban property he acquired to illustrate how Black communities can access land and property to increase food security. Scott is actively delivering solutions to help residents, farmers, and growers through regenerative agriculture and community gardening. 

His next project is to create social media channels that support digital monetization efforts for historically underserved producers and socially disadvantaged farmers. The strategy is to implement regional programs to increase urban agriculture, foster the well-being of vulnerable communities, and to bring more voices into conversations about how state funds are used in planning. In short, Scott is prioritizing regenerative urban agriculture, a holistic land-management practice that improves soil health, crop yields, water resilience, and nutrient density, in areas that need it the most—as a means of food security.

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In the pristine aisles and perfect manicured produce section, there is an ugly truth. Black residents must wake up early to travel across the expansive Augusta city to purchase healthy food at the recently opened Aldi stores. Photo credit: Cassandra Loftlin

After the ballots were counted in the election, Scott was unable to nab the supervisor position. Though he left without the title, his challenge created another position for him: Chair of the Urban Conservation Committee for Brier Creek’s Soil and Water Conservation District. For Scott, that was initial desire—to be able to write grants, lead and oversee urban initiatives, and tap into communities to find out then report their agricultural concerns and needs to the City of Augusta.

For many voting cycles, the supervisor position went unchallenged. For the elections, Scott was a formidable challenger, gaining over 10,000 Black votes. Because of the visible voting response, the conversation committee finally recognized the powerful voting bloc and the need to create a position representing them.

By doing this, Scott gained more respect and momentum with his programs. Plus, being a farmer, he knows all to well that there will be another season for him to harvest a electoral victory. For him, the people deserve bold leadership that challenge Richmond Couny power brokers who have almost annihilated urban and rural foodways like those in Augusta. 

In the next installment of Fcuk the Food System, we will continue our exploration of Black Farmers Index, Region IV, and examine how an former chef–turned farmer, a local market, and a community activist are creating a revolution, using food individually and collectively as a tool to fight racism and Fcuk the Food System

Don’t be a stranger in accessing people who are challenging the current food agricultural complex. More information about Dan Scott and his work can be found here and here.  More information about HABESHA and its training programs can be found here.

Fcuk the Food System is a series running on Ark Republic that explores the agricultural food complex, and freedom through food.

Chef Cassandra Loftlin travels around the world digging into delicious dishes.

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Fcuk the Food System

A monthly exploration of the relentless pursuit of Black freedom through food justice. Fcuk the Food