Expanding the Local Food System in Georgia
BUFORD, Georgia – Key agricultural stakeholders throughout the Atlanta area gathered in northern Georgia on September 11 to address the rapidly growing local foods industry and how local food systems can benefit communities, aid in economic development and become an important tool in community revitalization.
“Seeds of Growth” Conference, sponsored by Georgia Organics, was held at the Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center in Buford, GA. The one-day event covered a number of local food system components, including farmers markets, food hubs, the Farm to School program, and agritourism, as well as addressed local food system barriers, such as policies and regulations, distribution, processing, and high land and labor costs.
According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, the local foods industry across the United States hit $4.8 billion in sales in 2008, and direct farmer-to-consumer sales doubled in two decades.
“The conference is an opportunity for key sustainable ag stakeholders to network, learn about some local food efforts, and discuss ways to build on those efforts to expand the local food movement in northern Georgia,” said Brennan Washington, one of the conference organizers. Washington is owner/operator of Phoenix Gardens in Lawrenceville, as well as a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SSARE) Administrative Council member.
Some of the programs highlighted during the conference emphasizing local food system successes included:
- The Georgia Farm to School program, which served over 5 million meals to Georgia school children last year.
- The Atlanta Local Food Initiative, which conducted a food system inventory in 2012 as the first step in identifying strengths and gaps, and establishing a framework for measuring progress in the local food system.
- Atlanta Food & Farm – a consulting group that uses the philosophy of civic agriculture to encourage community building and to develop local food systems.
- Global Growers Network, which is launching a food hub initiative next year to aggregate, process and distribute local foods
Faith-based representatives, members of Georgia Organics and specialists from the University of Georgia also provided insight into some of the community and research efforts taking place surrounding local food systems. Conference participants were encouraged to continue to carry the torch.
“You are the agents of change in your communities for consumers to have access to local food, being able to afford it, and knowing what to do with it,” said Katie Cash Hayes, executive director of Community Farmers Markets.
Speakers offered some ways to continue expanding the local food movement:
- Involve farmers. Help young farmers thrive and grow by offering training and educational opportunities, and access to land and resources.
- Grow the customer based by collaborating, not competing.
- Work with local politicians and other key stakeholders to boost leverage and influence.
- Provide incentives for customers to make repeat returns to your business.
- Market to networks via stakeholders, social media and press connections.
- Think about regional food systems, as well as local food systems.
- Involve children in the process of growing and cooking vegetables.
Washington hopes the connections made at the “Seeds of Growth” Conference will help spur continued dialogue among conference participants. Future local food systems conferences are being planned throughout Georgia.
Published by the Southern Region of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Southern SARE operates under cooperative agreements with the University of Georgia, Fort Valley State University, and the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture to offer competitive grants to advance sustainable agriculture in America's Southern region.