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Farmers markets help Georgians connect with local food, farmers
By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

Fresh produce takes on a whole new meaning when customers can meet the farmer who grows it. Across Georgia, communities are working to make that connection at local farmers markets.

“People want to look into the face of the person who grows their food and be able to trace it back and know how it’s grown,” said Louise Estabrook, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agent in Fulton County.

Partnering with the city of Roswell, she helped start and now manages the Riverside Farmers Market, which opened in May 2008. The market is certified Georgia grown, and 51 percent of each vendor’s items must be from Georgia and grown within 100 miles of the market.

The metro Atlanta area isn’t the only part of Georgia that has people searching for locally grown foods.

“There’s definitely been a trend across the country to get back to local foods and knowing where your food came from,” said Amanda Tedrow, UGA Extension agent in Athens-Clarke County. “And people just enjoy that, especially with all the food safety issues that have been going around.”

Tedrow works with the producer-only Athens Farmers Market.

Currently, vendors in north Georgia are selling greens, onions, herbs, bread, carrots and other goodies. But the summer vegetables are on their way. Tedrow said she saw her first squash, cucumbers and tomatoes on a recent Saturday.

“The biggest question I get is ‘when are the tomatoes
coming?’” Estabrook said.

They’ll arrive in force by the end of June in north Georgia, and earlier in south Georgia.

The Roswell and Athens markets are two examples of UGA Extension working to help fill a local need.

“Part of my work with Extension is answering the questions of local farmers, and one of their needs was having a place to sell their produce,” Tedrow said. “So we all worked together.”

Tedrow and Estabrook do more than help run the markets. They have Master Gardeners on hand to answer questions ranging from composting to canning. Both help organize cooking demonstrations at their markets. And Estabrook has started contests, including an apple pie bake-off, watermelon eating contest and, this year, a zucchini derby. She’s providing the zucchini, wheels and stickers, and children will build the race-ready vegetable vehicles on July 25.

At the Riverside market, soap maker Jennifer Rosenthal of Indigo Bath and Body finds interaction with other vendors to be her favorite thing at the three Atlanta-area markets where she sells.

And the markets, she said, are more than just food. It’s also about education, she said. Children who visit her booth learn how soap is made. She uses the chance to introduce them to chemistry.

“Things in Mother Nature have so many more applications than just food,” she said.

In south Georgia, some state farmers markets are still going strong. And one of them is the Cordele Farmers Market.

“You can pick any rural road in south Georgia and follow the busted melons that fall off trucks onto the side of the road to the market in Cordele,” said Tucker Price, UGA Extension agent in Crisp County.

The Cordele market has been in business since the late 1940s. Despite its abundance of vegetables, including hard-to-find heirloom varieties, it’s best known for its melons.

Price remembers making the trek to Cordele as a child to help sell watermelons. And like Price in his childhood days, Estabrook is now making the farmers market a family affair. Her husband and son play in the market’s pickup musical band, and her daughter sells homemade doggie treats.

“It’s a great family venue for me,” she said. “I’ve made a lot of friends, both vendors and shoppers, and my family is there.”

“It’s great to see those interactions of someone walking up to a booth and knowing the farmer by name and being able to discuss what they liked about the food they got last week,” Tedrow said. “People definitely form relationships with both the growers and the food.”

For more information on Georgia farmers markets, visit www.pickyourown.org/GAfarmersmarkets.htm or www.localharvest.org.

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.)

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