Farmers come to town to sell their crops in a new normal way
Ask any Georgia agriculture educator what their main mission is in life, and they’ll probably tell you it is to disabuse folks of the notion that food comes solely from grocery stores. The COVID-19 pandemic has made their mission infinitely easier.
“People for the first time saw an empty shelf at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. They were not sure how to respond to that,” said Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.
“I think maybe they’ve grown to understand – I hope we’ve been able to tell them – it’s not a supply problem. We have plenty of product.”
And to prove the point, the Georgia Department of Agriculture teamed with several local and state partners this spring to host a series of “Georgia Grown To-Go” events that directly linked farmers from South Georgia with consumers in North Georgia.
“This helps to honestly help move product to start with, but one big take-away from this thing is we’re getting exposure for Georgia Grown, for our local grown products,” said Ken Corbett, a produce grower from Lake Park who delivered two tractor-trailer trucks filled with mixed boxes of bell peppers, cucumbers, yellow squash, zucchini squash and sweet corn to Marietta.
Corbett said the COVID-19 pandemic has taught people how to get by without a lot of things, “but one thing we’re not going to get by without is food. We have to have food.”
For Paulding County resident Mike Gray, a truck-driver on his way home from a trip to Memphis, Tenn., the Georgia Grown To-Go market in Marietta offered a convenient way to gather fresh produce until his own backyard garden comes in.
“It’s for a good cause, helping the farmers,” he said.
For dairy farmers Jimmy and Ginny Franks – who left their Southern Swiss Dairy in Waynesboro at 3 a.m. on May 23 to deliver 175 pre-ordered dairy boxes to Cobb County – the drive-thru market was a chock to slow a precipitous decline in their business.
“When this thing hit, we lost about 80 percent of our business,” Jimmy Franks said. “We’ve lost more money in the last 90 days than I think I’ve lost in the last 10 years.”
His drive time to Cobb County – nearly three hours – was about equal to the wait time some of the estimated 3,000 buyers logged in line at the Al Bishop Softball Complex in Marietta to pick up prepacked boxes of produce, frozen chicken and Franks’ dairy boxes containing a gallon of whole milk, a half-gallon of chocolate milk, a pound of butter and half-pints of whole cream and half-and-half. All are produced in the on-farm creamery from milk made by a herd of 160 Brown Swiss cows.
Nearly 300,000 pounds of produce – roughly 20,000 boxes – were sold at a May 20 event hosted by State Rep. Kasey Carpenter, a restaurant owner, in Dalton. Volunteers from various community organizations and businesses packed and distributed the boxes. Several companies purchased in bulk on behalf of their employees, while others bought multiple boxes to give away to friends, relatives and neighbors.
DeKalb County dedicated $40,000 in funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to purchase Georgia-grown produce and chicken for 1,200 care baskets distributed free on a first-come, first-served basis May 22.
Buying local means neighbors helping neighbors, which was the overarching theme of each To-Go event.
Personnel from the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office represented roughly half of all volunteers who fulfilled orders in Marietta, which logged nearly $150,000 in presales ahead of the event on May 23. Sheriff Neil Warren worked with Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin and Agriculture Commissioner Black to organize the drive-thru market.
“The sheriff just believes wholeheartedly in helping the community and giving back wherever we can. I mean that’s kind of our role, to protect and to serve,” said Chief Deputy Sonya Allen.
Those who volunteered to staff the event did so without being asked, she added.
“People said, ‘I’ll be there.’ A lot of civilians here with the sheriff’s office who don’t typically get to work events like the deputies do said they wanted to help.”
If anything good comes of this whole coronavirus episode, it is that consumers previously unfamiliar with the breadth and depth of Georgia agriculture – the state’s largest economic driver – will know the name Georgia Grown and the names of some of the thousands of growers and producers united under that label.
“I believe that one of the positive things that’s going to come out of this is these Georgia Grown farmers will look their Georgia Grown consumers dead in the eye and I think these consumers are going to want that more,” said Agriculture Commissioner Black. “I think these consumers are going to want that more whether they actually see the farmer or they see our brand with the farmer’s brand and then they respond favorably with their retailers saying, ‘This is what we want in your store.’”
By the Numbers
This story is courtesy of the Georgia Market Bulletin and written by the editor, Amy Carter. During COVID-19 online access is free. To receive a print copy in your mailbox, subscribe for just $10 a year.