It’s Kate Kroell’s job to care about how—and where—people buy their groceries.
As the fundraiser and grant writer for a network of weekly farmers markets in metro-Atlanta, she sees accessibility to fresh foods as a public health issue and a matter of social justice.
“By shopping at a farmers market, I’m supporting a food system that is fair and not exploitative,” said Kroell (MPH ’11). “I’m investing in my health. I’m investing in the community. And I’m investing in local business owners.”
Kroell’s journey to becoming a champion of community health and food security began several years ago in Tamil Nadu, India. After earning her bachelor’s degree in biology, Kroell embarked on a three-month volunteer project with a nonprofit, working with families affected by leprosy in the southern state of India.
“Leprosy wasn’t spreading but there were still people with chronic symptoms and there was still a lot of stigma surrounding the disease,” Kroell said. “Families were required to live in colonies and many didn’t have access to consistent medical care.”
Because people with leprosy and their families were considered outcasts, they often did not have enough money to seek treatment or medical care providers were afraid to treat them.
“There would be generations of people who didn’t have the resources to create healthy lives,” Kroell said. “It was hard not to be impacted by that.”
When Kroell returned to the U.S. she decided to pursue a Master of Public Health degree so she could address issues of public health and social justice closer to home. After graduation, she took a job analyzing data for a health care company, but something was missing.
“I just didn’t feel fulfilled,” she said.
So, when she saw an opportunity to work at an urban farm and education nonprofit, Kroell said she immediately seized it. The experience broadened her skills and deepened her interest in sustainable food systems, which led to her to working for Community Farmers Markets (CFM for short).
“Farming and farmers markets are a welcoming community,” Kroell said. “I really needed that human interaction.”
CFM runs five weekly markets that sell seasonal produce and pantry staples from about 130 Georgia farmers and crafters. As CFM’s development director, it’s Kroell’s job to raise financial support for the organization’s mission of making fresh and local food accessible to more people.
CFM sets up its weekly markets in mixed-income neighborhoods in and around Atlanta where there aren’t many—if any—nearby fresh food shops or supermarkets, and has added stalls at four MARTA stations to offer commuters fresh produce one day a week. CFM also works with the Wholesome Wave Georgia program to double food stamp benefits at all of its markets, making healthier and locally produced foods affordable for lower income residents.
In addition to raising funds and forming partnerships, Kroell’s job includes writing grants so CFM can work with community groups to educate residents about how to find and prepare healthier foods. Last year, CFM partnered with more 100 community-based organizations to offer nutrition and basic cooking instruction to people of various ages.
Kroell said having a graduate degree in public health has helped her in raising support for the markets and their vision.
“Having a foundation of technical writing really helped me when I first started writing grants,” she said. “It’s also helped me be able to talk about health and health outcomes in a more impactful way. I can translate our work in a way that most people can relate to. All those research papers paid off.”
Kroell said she feels satisfied now, watching the ripple affect of her work through the communities.
“Meeting the clients we serve at the farmers markets and seeing the individual change we can foster is really powerful for me,” she said. “And for a lot of vendors, these markets are a primary source of income. So, I feel like I’m doing something important for the community.”
—Story by Kathleen Baydala Joyner. Photos by Anna Varela.