Everyone enjoys eating locally grown fruits, vegetables and other fresh farm products when they can find them, but who has time to drive to multiple Saturday markets and produce stands to get it? What if you had a way to pick out exactly what organically grown produce you wanted, and get the local farm quality you expected, all from your computer or smart phone?
Enter Northeast Georgia Locally Grown, a new web-based market giving local residents a convenient way to buy fresh local farm foods from farmers who use chemical-free and sustainable farming techniques. Justin Ellis, SRWA executive director in Clarkesville, helped to organize the effort in April 2010.
“When I had first moved back from Athens a couple of years ago, I had grown accustomed to buying and eating food from organic farms,” explained Justin. “I had assumed that I would be able to purchase locally grown foods, but it was hard to find at first.”
“As I found local farmers I could buy from, I learned that everyone that was growing food here had an interest in selling their produce to the local market, but they were struggling with a good way to do that. The locally grown market in Athens had a system where you could go on line on the weekend and shop for your favorite produce from a choice of local farmers. I had never really thought that we would start a market like the one in Athens, but I thought it was a good idea, and I mentioned the idea to some of the local producers.”
Chuck Mashburn, the farmer for Mill Gap Farm in Tiger, Georgia called Justin up one day and said, ”Well, I reckon we oughta start a locally grown market up here.” After some more meetings with other local farmers, the group put a web site together and found out how easy it was to be up and running. “Within a month and a half of that first meeting, the market was launched,” said Justin.
Locally Grown subscribers get an email on Sunday night telling them that the market is open. From Sunday night through Monday night, subscribers have that time to shop on the market.
“When you click on your choice of produce, you are actually ordering directly from that farm,” remarked Justin. “The farmer prints out a label with your name on it, labels the package at the farm, and brings it in to the market on Wednesday afternoon. By late afternoon, the customers come in to pay for and pick up their produce.”
There are currently two pickup locations for buyers: one at Grace Calvary Church parking lot in Clarkesville, and the other at Mill Gap Farm in Tiger.
“This year we have twenty-two farms participating with about 224 different products listed for sale on the web site,” said Justin. “That includes a lot of fruit and vegetables, the mainstay of the selection, with almost anything you can imagine, including beets, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers . . . unusual stuff too . . . fennel, kohlrabi, lots of greens. But we also have goat cheese, fresh eggs, breads, mushrooms, herbs, ground cornmeal, flour, even chocolate cake. One of the most exciting things about the market is seeing how creative the local growers and food producers can be in coming up with products that people want to eat.”
“Locally Grown is unique in that it is a web-based market, which is very different from a Saturday morning market,” Justin explained further. “One of the common limitations for farmers is the time required to spend at a local market. Also, farmers in general take on a certain amount of risk since they have no idea how much of what they produce will be bought.”
“From the farmers’ perspective, the great thing about Locally Grown is that everything is pre-sold. When a farmer gets a web order, they go out and harvest just what it takes to fill that order, which takes some of the risk out of it. The other benefit is that they can drop that order off and then go back to the farm and continue working.”
“Locally Grown is a great example of marrying technology with the local agrarian community, and it seems to be catching on well here,” said Justin. “We want people to begin to realize that northeast Georgia is a place that grows good quality food, and we hope it’s going to get bigger and bigger.”
Visit the Northeast Georgia Locally Grown web site to learn more about buying local farm foods online. If you are interested in joining the network to become a Locally Grown producer, contact Justin Ellis at the SRWA office at 706.754.9382.