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Technology + Local Food? Let’s do it!

A primary perk of doing your own thing is the freedom it provides for showing some love to causes outside the specific operations of your business. So in that spirit, I’d like to introduce you to a little somethin' called Code for Atlanta (@codeforatlanta) — Atlanta’s exciting selection as one of just ten cities across the nation chosen to participate in Code for America’s 2014 Fellowship program.


What is Code for America, you ask? Well, in a nutshell, it’s a national non-profit that seeks to achieve innovation and civic engagement by facilitating effective collaboration between governments and their people. Specifically, they promote the use of today’s technology as the preferred means of realizing these objectives. One of the ways they do this is through their Fellowship Program, where they deploy a flock of expert “fellows” (aka true masters of innovation) to each selected city for an 11-month foray into the trenches of local government and civic issues.

Atlanta’s team of Fellows is a motley crew of three tech genius-types, and we couldn’t be more happy to have them! Allow me to introduce Tiffani Bell (@tiffani...how’d she get that handle y’all?!), a web-developing entrepreneur from Fayetteville, NC; Andrea “Andi” Hansen (@vis_sys), a San Fran-based visualization specialist and genuine jill-of-all-trades; and Mr. Sam Hashemi (@oksamuel), a former NASA man here to rocket our city into civic stardom. “Will Code for Peaches” is their slogan, and you can follow them through the Code for Atlanta page on Facebook, individually and as @codeforatlanta on Twitter, on Instagram as @willcodeforpeaches, and on Tumblr at www.willcodeforpeaches.tumblr.com.

So, what in the Sam Hill does this have to do with Locurean and local food and drink at all? Here’s the connection:

After participating in Govathon, Atlanta’s City-sponsored “hackathon,” in November, I started looking for ways to get a bit more involved in our city’s progress. As a result, despite my embarrassingly-low level of technological know-how, I volunteered to be part of the Code for Atlanta “brigade” to support the upcoming fellowship in the ways I could. My involvement is manifest in my very minor, but hopefully impactful, role as a member of the social media team. I’ll support the program through awareness and general outreach, and I welcome your help in my efforts!

But now, finally, it’s time to bring it back to food, my friends! In my opinion, the presence of Code for America’s Fellowship program in Atlanta presents a unique opportunity to bring some of our city’s civic, food-related issues to the forefront. Whether the issue is food equity in general, nutrition in local schools, or raising public awareness of the food and health-related programs that already exist, the application of innovative technology and tools could be a true catalyst for change in our community.

While the Farm Bill passed on Tuesday by the Senate includes some lauded “wins” for food and ag, it also raises some new issues that call for even more community support. Namely, the staggering cuts to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program...think food stamps). While increased TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) funding helps mitigate their impact to a certain degree, the cuts still mean support is more important than ever for local and regional food banks, as well as the existing sources of healthy, local food for both current SNAP benefit recipients and the lesser number of people that will see their benefits continue after the cuts are made.

Many people are unaware that a notable, continuously-growing number of farmers’ markets are licensed to accept SNAP benefits as payment. The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service website even provides a surprisingly accessible list of these SNAP-friendly markets nationwide. The list, available for download, cites a total of 72 for the entire State of Georgia, 13 of which are located within Atlanta, plus many more close to the general Metro Area.

I can’t help but suspect that there’s a way we could incorporate technology into an innovative tool for one, some, or even all of the City’s issues concerning well-being and health as it relates to food.

From their general solicitation for suggestions, and through my conversations with them, the Code for America fellows articulated the fact that, unlike the situation in some other selected cities, Atlanta’s objectives for the program were more exploratory in nature, with a less-specific set of directives to address. While more particulars are surely involved, the City’s apparent open-mindedness in hearing from these experts presents an opportunity to suggest some issues of our own. Of course I can’t guarantee an impact, and I’m just here to support the program how I can, but if any community is capable of enacting positive change, I feel certain it’s the folks in Food and Beverage!

I invite you to join me in support of all three fellows and Code for America through active conversation to make our city a better place, and hey...if local food and tech can meet along the way, let’s do it!