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Farms growing bigger profits

Demand for local food drives agricultural businesses’ success

POSTED: May 11, 2013 12:14 a.m.

Jimmy Echols, center, meets Friday morning with Appalachian Regional Commission Federal Co-Chairman Earl Gohl, left, and Chief of Staff Guy Land as the Appalachians Foodways tour stops at Jaemor Farms in Alto.

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Entrepreneurs in agriculture are finding new ways to grow their businesses and profit, said Earl Gohl, federal co-chairman of the Appalachian Regional Commission, a regional economic development agency of federal, state and local government partners.

Gohl visited Jaemor Farms near Lula and Mountain Fresh Creamery LLC in Clermont on Friday as part of his 13-state Appalachian Foodways tour highlighting the potential of local food systems to create economic opportunity and grow jobs.

Owners from both businesses said rising demand for food locally grown or produced is helping to drive their growth.

Among tour participants included members of the Georgia Mountain Regional Commission, other state employees and an agribusiness economist with the University of Georgia’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development.

The Appalachian region includes all or parts of Georgia, West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. The tour provides information for a conference by the regional commission to talk about how entrepreneurship relates to food production and other opportunities.

“We want to see what people are doing in different parts of the region,” Gohl said. “As folks begin to realize that there are these opportunities out there, they really take a very entrepreneurial approach to what is the challenge here, and what is it that I can turn into a business opportunity.”

Family-owned Jaemor Farms has been around for more than 100 years growing fruits and vegetables, including peaches, strawberries and blackberries. The Echols family sell about 90 percent of what they grow at their market off of Cornelia Highway. The market and farm, which spans hundreds of acres, attracts visitors from across the state.

The Echolses put the numbers of people who visit the market each year at 750,000 people, said Cheryl Smith, Georgia Northeast Mountains tourism representative.

Jimmy Echols said a traffic study showed about 10,000 cars coming in the driveway each week.

“That’s the biggest draw is peaches,” Echols said.

Drew Echols, Jimmy’s grandson, said he believes people should know their farmers. He credits the keys to success as smart decisions and hard work. The farm added new products, such as strawberries and blackberries, to diversify their operations and demand keeps increasing.

Agriculture industry magazines encourage letting people experience farm life, so Jaemor holds events such as a corn maze, hay rides and field trips. Now publications talk about branding, but Jaemor already has a strong brand because it’s been around so long, said the grandson, who manages the harvest, planning and marketing for the farm.

“It ain’t rocket science; it’s not some business plan we had to pay somebody to draw up for us,” Drew Echols said. “(It’s) hard work and producing a good product.”

Mountain Fresh Creamery was just a dairy farm until its owners decided to open a retail store in Clermont about two years ago. Owner Scott Glover said he was surprised at how quickly products started flying off the shelves.

Glover offers a niche product: milk just a step above raw. The Glovers use low-temperature pasteurization so the milk is “fresh squeezed,” which means it’s creamier, retains vitamins, leaves fat particles whole and keeps the “good” bacteria.

Mountain Fresh also makes its own ice cream, buttermilk and butter.

Glover said a future step would be to combine the farm and retail store into one location so people can experience a dairy farm and learn that milk doesn’t just come from a grocery store.

The dairy farm is located about 7 miles away, with bottling conducted in a room beside the retail store with a large glass window between the two.

“It’s different,” Glover said. “It’s got a lot better taste.”

Both companies used innovation and vision to maximize resources and survive economic challenges, Gohl said. That’s the message he’ll take with him on the rest of his tour.

“It’s really about an individual’s ability to figure out what they want to achieve,” he said.


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