"I don't know of anyone else doing this in Georgia," said Reid Torrance, Tattnall County coordinator for the University of Georgia Extension Service. "We think it's a concept that's going to be picked up around the state, though. It's an outlet mall kind of thing."
Co-op Fruits, Vegetables
The 18 co-op members grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, from Vidalia onions, butterbeans, sweet corn and tomatoes to peaches, strawberries, blackberries and watermelons.
Torrance worked with the growers, UGA economists and a number of others to form the co-op and begin the group's joint marketing.
"This is a marketing cooperative in which the growers have agreed to pool their resources," said Kent Wolfe, an extension marketing and finance economist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
"They realize that if they pool their resources they'll have a lot more money to advertise on television and in other ways that aren't feasible for individual growers," Wolfe said.
The Georgia Department of Agriculture agreed to provide up to $20,000 in matching funds to support the cooperative.
"We want it to be a start-up for other areas around the state," said Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin. "Everybody's interested in farm-fresh produce. And when you get the farmers into direct-marketing, you can't get any fresher than that."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Tattnall County government, local legislators and others came up with the required matching funds.
With part of the money, the co-op developed a logo and printed a slick brochure to promote the farms and markets. They mailed it to more than 16,000 households in seven counties.
"The concept of us farmers getting together is the most unusual thing about this," said Danny Durrence of D.C. Durrence Farm. "We're usually trying to beat the other fellow out of a customer. But by pooling our resources, everybody's going to benefit."
If a customer wants something Durrence doesn't grow, he points out the closest of the farms that do have it. Torrance says that's not as unusual as you might think. "There's been a lot of cooperation among the group before," he said.
Most of the farms have fresh produce ready for their customers. But Durrence was getting calls even before he did.
"Some were old customers, but many were people who've seen the brochure," he said. "Some people have even come out making a 'dry run,' just so they'd know where to come when everything's ready. Three families came out in a group. They were home-schooling, and it was a day out for the kids, like a field trip."
Part of the appeal of Farm Fresh Tattnall is the trip to the farm. "You'd be surprised how many kids come here who've never seen a chicken or a cow or a tomato on the vine," Durrence said.
Torrance says the new co-op is selling the farms' wonder as much as the fruits and vegetables. "We're trying to market the country atmosphere and farm experience," he said.
(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)