Before the raging COVID-19 pandemic, Jason Kemp was the smiling face pouring interesting wines behind Decatur’s Deer and the Dove. He currently refers to himself as furloughed Bar Manager-now-stay at home dad and avid homeschooler & gardener. “Needless to say, I’ve had a good deal of time to think about our food supply as of late,” he said. The first Food Fight GA box his family received inspired much of the contemplation.
Food Fight GA is a public charity collaboration between Georgia Organics and Jamestown Charitable Foundation. The initiative’s mission is to provide restaurant workers with weekly grocery boxes, which include ingredients sourced from Georgia farms and freshly baked bread from Root Baking Co.
The conceptualization of Food Fight began with Chris Wilkins, who owns Root Baking Co. along with his wife Nicole Lewis-Wilkins. As the pandemic began shutting down businesses, the duo was in the initial stages of opening their new pizza joint, Pizza Jeans, on the second floor of Ponce City Market. Trying to figure out a way to get pizza to now unemployed service industry workers, Wilkins began to worry. “I started thinking of the circuits of local food and I was pretty concerned about our farming and eating community, our food services community, our alcohol reps, and the folks who deliver– those who are secondary and tertiary to our own,” he said. “It’s a shockwave scenario.”
Wilkins saw a need and connected the loop of the restaurant/farm food equation, by trying to keep the system as a whole running. “It came out of a lot of conversations with really smart people,” he said. “We thought, what’s the best, low-impact way to get something good to somebody,” he said. He pondered how to buy vegetables from farmers to keep their businesses running and vegetables safe from compost, all the while feeding restaurant workers.
He spoke with farmers and restaurateurs Ryan Smith (Staplehouse), Bruce Logue (BoccaLupo), Terry Koval (Deer and the Dove) and Anne Quatrano (Bacchanalia). It was Miller Union’s Steven Satterfield who had the groceries idea. “Our people know how to cook,” Satterfield told Wilkins, “groceries make a lot of sense.” Dale Donchey (Spiller Park) came up with the name. “Jamestown (owners of Ponce City Market) was very supportive off the bat,” said Wilkins. They got Georgia Organics on board to coordinate because “no one knows how to put something like this together more than them,” he said.
During the first two weeks of the pilot program, Food Fight GA put $10,000 back in the hands of farm partners who mostly supply restaurants, a supply chain difficult to quickly pivot. It also provided 200 boxes to Atlanta restaurant workers each week. Bruce Logue had the idea of including bread and pasta in the boxes and King Arthur Flour Company stepped in and agreed to purchase loaves from Root Baking Co. for distribution.
To Jason Kemp, the box represents the deep sense of family that surrounds the farm to restaurant/table movement in Georgia. “I feel lucky in my career to have been a small part of this wonderful food web working alongside talented chefs who strive every day to support the efforts of these fine farmers,” he said. “The farm box showcases the honest and genuine work of this diverse group of folks that endeavor to provide some of the best quality produce, meat, and dairy in the region,” he said
The next step is to democratize the recipes a little and share the way people cook at home, perhaps with a recipe book. “There’s a certain way in which, no matter what type of restaurant—James Beard Award-winning or small neighborhood place—you are, we are all in the same boat at this point,” Wilkins said.
When we asked Kemp about his family box, he said:
“We cooked everything. I made allium bagel chips from the bagels from B-side, we griddled the Root Baking loaf for breakfast toast and cubed and oven dryed the rest to make breadcrumbs which went into meatballs, made fresh simple salads with the mixed greens, radish, & kale. We baked mushroom tarts with the shiitake mushrooms from Ellijay mushrooms, all manner of egg preparations from sunny, over medium, omelet, to jammy. We did a fine cube on the yams and leeks and made a root vegetable hash with fresh thyme & rosemary from the garden.”
For now Food Fight GA is available to Georgia Organics Farmer Champion restaurant partners but the hopeful plan, Wilkins said, is to encourage more donations and expand to more restaurants. “I hope this creates conversations we need to have.” Job insecurity is kind of built in to the restaurant industry, but not industry insecurity. The pandemic laid bare the fragility of our food system. Food Fight GA is now accepting donations from the public here via PayPal, and restaurants interested in joining the initiative can learn more here.