At the moment, any random set of demographic and economic data from the area is wholly disturbing, but an analysis of food access and income in Dougherty is particularly troublesome. Free and Reduced Price Meal Eligibility at county schools is close to 100 percent. Approximately, 27 percent of the population is food insecure, elevating it among the top one percent of U.S. counties for food insecurity. The number of county residents enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program rose by 42 percent from 2007 to 2011. Currently, over one-third of county residents receive benefits, 88 percent of whom are black. Dougherty County, overall, ranks 156 out of 159 in the state of Georgia. Dougherty contains the largest urban population and area in the region, and over three-quarters of Albany residents live in low-income and low food access areas as defined by the USDA Economic Research Service.
FLINT RIVER FRESH - THE SOLUTION
In 2015, Dougherty County was selected as a Community of Opportunity by Growing Food Connections (GFC) — a collaboration between the University of Buffalo, American Farmland Trust, Cultivating Healthy Places, and The Ohio State University — and participated in a two-year community assessment to “improve access to healthy food, support local farms and ranches, and stimulate local economies” as part of a grant from USDA's National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). After working with low-income residents, agricultural stakeholders, and local government, Growing Food Connections recommended to the Dougherty County Board of Commissioners “to encourage nonprofit efforts to spearhead food systems work.” It directly encouraged the Flint River Soil & Water Conservation District (FRSWCD) to create a nonprofit — Flint River Fresh Inc. — “to meet the needs of urban agriculture in Albany and also to expand programming across the county to address a broader range of food system issues including small- and mid-sized farm viability and community food security."
The FRSWCD accordingly incorporated Flint River Fresh Inc. as a 501c3 nonprofit in September 2017, a continuation of its Urban Agriculture Conservation Initiative, to pursue with robustness other specific GFC objectives:
- Expand agriculture and community gardens
- Create a mobile market with appropriate vehicles and equipment, particularly to serve East Albany, which lacks grocery stores
- Explore USDA funding opportunities to expand markets and invest in Dougherty County’s food system