In honor of National Bike Month, we’re spotlighting how bicycles are tools for personal empowerment, social justice and community development in our with our “Where the Ride Takes Us” web series. Today’s post comes from Neil Walker, a leading League Cycling Instructor Coach, a youth program coordinator for Metro Atlanta Cycling Club, founder of Cycles and Change and member of the League’s Equity Advisory Council.
Two years ago, the Atlanta Bike Coalition, the Dream Team and Metro Atlanta Cycling Club partnered with City Councilman Aaron Watson to do a series of rides called “Living Smarter.” These rides were developed to support farmers markets and community gardens.
There has always been the conversation about quality food and the fact that it isn’t affordable for those that are financially challenged. Unfortunately, whole foods are not an option when you are living on a limited budget — but visiting the local community gardens and understanding how they work gives parents a more viable option.
The initial idea was to find a way to deal with obesity and Type 2 diabetes. We have always worked with nutrition as part of our programming but most of it had been done through our partnership with the East Atlanta Kids Club. The Tour de Farm was different than anything else that had been done in Atlanta — an opportunity to educate our youth contingent (The Dream Team and The Drew Charter School Bike Club) on healthy eating choices and affordable food options other than the local supermarkets.
Each farm or vendor site represented a unique aspect of local sustainable agriculture, offering a great learning experience — with riders having the option of participating in the whole tour with camping or for one-day only. All meals and snacks were provided and primarily sourced from the farms on the tour and other market vendors and partners fincluded the East Atlanta Farmers Market, the Grant Park Farmers Market, Whole Foods, The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, Loose Nuts Cycles, Georgia Organics, and the participating farm sites.
While bike tours are common, it’s not often you get to camp out on an urban farm and have a casual dinner with one of the city’s hottest chefs. The kids not only saw the backyards and patched pieces of land that urban farmers are utilizing; they also get to see behind the scenes of some of the most popular new food entrepreneurs. From experiencing sausage making to perfecting a croissant, the event highlighted the most unique and edgy parts of the Atlanta local food scene.
The response from the kids was superb; after all, they love to ride and they love to eat! The most fascinating part for me was to see them get involved. They have no problems getting their hands dirty. The knowledge they received during those rides and the various classes have birthed two new Community Gardens in areas that were once abandoned lots.
The other aspect is that they are aware of terms such as GMO (genetically modified organism), saturated fats, cholesterol and pesticide. They now know that “you are what you eat.” They know that potato chips and sodas are not an option — and the proper foods they should eat to help fuel their bodies on our weekly bike rides.
It all works together, exercise (cycling), proper nutrition and the rest. Overall, it has been a success for the farms, the farmers markets and for the riders. We are looking forward to the second annual Tour de Farms and to continuing to ride, as well as educate and inform.
The collaboration of bicycling and proper nutrition is just one of the ways we are fighting against obesity and other health related disparities in our city.
Read more about Neil and his efforts in the January/February issue of American Bicyclist.
Carolyn SzczepanskiCarolyn joined the League in March 2012, after two years at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. In addition to managing the League's blog, magazine and other communications, Carolyn organized the first National Women's Bicycling Summit and launched the League's newest program: Women Bike. Before she crossed over to advocacy, she was a professional journalist for nearly 10 years.