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Here’s How Tech Startups Are Fighting Atlanta’s 35+ Food Deserts

by Muriel Vega

A recent Georgia Tech study found that people in food deserts, a term used by the USDA to describe communities with limited access to grocery stores, eat food that is 5-17 percent higher in fats, sugars and cholesterol. The university gathered three million geo-tagged posts on Instagram from residents in both non-food desert areas and food deserts to achieve their findings.

“The USDA identifies food deserts based on the availability of fresh food,” said Munmun De Choudhury, the lead study researcher and an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing. “Instagram literally gives us a picture of what people are actually eating in these communities, allowing us to study them in a new way.”

There are over 35 food deserts inside the Metro Atlanta perimeter, meaning residents don’t have easy access to a grocery store or affordable healthy food.

“Most people in the 21st century have access to technology. There are still many people that do not have access to good food. How can technology bring more good food to more people?” asks David Paull, CEO of food waste startup Compostwheels.

From connecting local farmers to available urban land to helping homeless residents add fresh fruit and produce to their diet, these tech startups are helping bring healthier food to more Atlanta residents.

Acrefy

What if we could connect vacant lots with experienced urban farmers to build small but prolific farms? This community wealth development platform wants to do just that — create and grow hyper-local economies that benefit both the farmers and their customers. The agro-tech startup has an ambitious goal of converting 100 vacant acres into 400 mini-farms to produce 8 million dollars of revenue in a year, per their pitch at Goodie Nation‘s #HackGentrification competition.

Goodr

Goodr CEO Jasmine Crowe wants to help the 755,000 people in metro Atlanta and north Georgia that currently live in food-insecure households. The rescue food app uses the power of shared economy to identify surplus food from donors (think restaurants and grocery stores), send a team member to pick it up via their app, and redirect it to soup kitchens, shelters, and senior centers. At this time, the Goodr team has rescued over 5,000 pounds of food, with Turner Broadcasting Systems (TBS) as one of their main clients and a pilot with Delta underway. Their platform also offers real-time donation/tax deduction information and community impact reports.

Compostwheels

Compost pick-up service Compostwheels is tackling food waste where it starts — in your kitchen. The team drops off branded receptacles at their customers’ door and picks them up weekly after the customer has filled it up food scraps. The startup removes the (often icky) barrier most consumers encounter when trying to manage their own waste.

Once the compostable materials are picked up, the team diverts the nutrient-rich compost back to seven local farms. To this day, those farms have collectively grown 75,000 pounds of fresh produce. “We hope that Atlanta continues to stay involved in the urban agriculture/good food movement and understands that the viability of farming starts with the soil,” says Paull.

Concrete Jungle

In partnership with Georgia Tech, non-profit Concrete Jungle has identified over 2,800 fruit trees of more than 20 varieties around the city. While they are still researching the best one, the team has been working on a way of determining the best method to detect when fruits are ripe on city trees for more efficient harvesting by using a variety of technology products — from hydrogen sensors to drones, mechanical sensors and embedded tree cameras.

Between fruit-picking initiatives and events, the non-profit has shared and donated more than 60,000 pounds of produce to local shelters and food banks, including over 5,300 pounds of food from their Southwest Atlanta farm.

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