Transit Provides Local Food Access

Patrons visit a Fresh MARTA Market stand featuring fresh produce inside a MARTA station

Patrons visit a Fresh MARTA Market stand featuring fresh produce inside a MARTA station

Produce markets are sprouting along Atlanta’s public transit lines thanks to a unique collaboration between the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) and the local food community known as The Fresh MARTA Market. In 2015, Community Farmers Markets (CFM), Georgia Food Oasis-Atlanta (GFOA), Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB), and Southwest Atlanta Growers Cooperative took Fresh MARTA Market from an idea to fruition.

The initiative is one of the first in the country to intersect transit with healthy food access. It aims to provide healthy food options to MARTA passengers and residents living near or around Fresh MARTA Markets.

The first Fresh MARTA Market opened at the West End Station in July 2015, offering riders a mix of produce grown by Metro Atlanta farmers along with non-local food items. In 2016, the program expanded to three additional MARTA stations: Five Points, Hamilton E. Holmes and College Park.

The markets consist of robust produce stands designed by Perkins + Will that offer affordable, fresh and healthy foods in underserved communities with limited access to fresh food. During market season (May-December), the stands are each open one day a week. Local urban agriculture organization Organix Matters, which employs local growers and food entrepreneurs, manages the day-to-day operations of the Fresh MARTA Market  in collaboration with CFM, GFOA and MARTA. The markets are further supported with wraparound services offered by community partners, including Open Hand Atlanta, Atlanta Community Food Bank Benefit Outreach Program, Wholesome Wave Georgia and Southwest Atlanta Growers Cooperative.

FRESH MARTA MARKET: COLLABORATION INCREASES IMPACT

The success of Fresh MARTA Market is largely attributed to three main factors: affordability, accessibility and collaboration with local growers and services partners, according to Hilary King, Director of Special Projects and Evaluation for Community Farmers Markets.

“Fresh MARTA Market is a really interesting model in which the idea is for it to be an access point for all of the MARTA patrons’ fresh food needs. It is not limited to only locally-grown produce, but also includes items like lemons and bananas grown in other parts of the country and the world in order to cover people's fresh produce needs as much as possible,” says King.

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During its 2015 pilot season, the Fresh MARTA Market at the West End rail station engaged 3,500 visitors and sold more than 8,000 pounds of produce, putting $7,825 back into the hands of local farmers. The following year, despite a truncated season running from September to December 2016, the four markets collectively welcomed more than 13,000 visitors and sold more than 15,000 pounds of produce.

Fresh MARTA Market purchases its produce from local growers affiliated with the Southwest Atlanta Growers Cooperative and Community Farmers Markets networks, as well as local food hubs, including Fresh Harvest and The Common Market Georgia. The market offers local growers a fair wholesale price and provides farmers with a new avenue to sell their produce without diverting time away from their urban farms. Additionally, by purchasing in bulk, it allows Fresh MARTA Market to offer produce at or below market rate, passing on savings to customers.

In order to supplement local grower produce and offer maximum variety, similar to a produce section at a supermarket, Fresh MARTA Market also sources non-local produce from the State Farmers Market. In 2017, Fresh MARTA Market also began offering value-added items from local makers and markets that include products such as chopped fruits and vegetables, local honey, grab-n-go salads and other healthy snack food options.

At the end of each week, the food that is not sold at the market is donated to the Atlanta Community Food Bank, other community partner organizations, or is composted with nearby urban growers - a bonus of the partnerships that support this innovative food access solution.

Each of the markets offer double SNAP value for customers through the Georgia Fresh For Less program, with 21 to 39 percent of sales coming from SNAP purchases across the four rail stations. This indicates a strong demand and importance of affordable, accessible fresh produce. Atlanta Community Food Bank also provides volunteer support for the markets as well as screenings and application submission for public benefits through the Benefit Outreach team. For 2017, the Fresh MARTA Market is already on pace to meet and exceed 2016 SNAP sales.

“The goal is for the Fresh MARTA Market to meet people and serve them where they are as they are traveling via public transportation so they can easily pick up fresh fruits and vegetables in their normal commute,” says Cicely Garrett, Georgia Food Oasis Senior Advisor.

In September of 2017, MARTA was awarded a $500,000 Local Food Promotion Program Grant from the USDA to support Fresh MARTA Markets and expansion over three years.

As the Fresh MARTA Market positions itself as an emerging, alternative local fresh food access and re-distribution system in Atlanta, the partners behind the model are eager to see it continue to grow and expand; serving as an inspiration to mass public transit systems across the country.