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Online farmers market brings locally grown fruits and vegetables to Hall County

Northeast Georgia farmers pick produce and deliver to clients

POSTED: July 11, 2014 1:00 a.m.
NAT GURLEY/The Times

Market manager Andrew Linker points to fresh produce Wednesday afternoon ready for customers who ordered earlier online to pick up. Linker, an environmental studies senior at University of North Georgia, said he discovered Northeast Georgia Locally Grown when he couldn't find local foods. "Localizing food is a huge passion," he said. Tomatoes are just starting to come in.

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Four years ago, Justin Ellis and a group of farmers throughout Habersham and Rabun counties started talking about launching an Internet farmers markets. Now, Locally Grown online market supplies an average of 50-60 customers per week with fresh food from small Northeast Georgia farms and boasts more than 400 subscribers to its email alerts.

Inspired by a successful model of an online farmers market in Athens, Ellis and his fellow farmers launched a similar version, www.northeastgeorgia.locallygrown.net, in 2010. The goal was to create easy access to local produce and help small mountain farms. The website connects independent farmers in Rabun and Habersham counties with customers interested in purchasing meat, produce, bread and even skin care products grown in local, chemically free environments. For a fee of $20 each year, customers can create an online account and view and select items to purchase.

On Wednesday, Ellis and others shuttled their produce from the farms to Hall County for distribution.

“It’s a convenience, being able to shop at home for that many days from that many farms,” said Ellis, who had grown accustomed to eating locally grown meat and produce but was having a hard time finding fresh food sources after moving to Clarkesville.

“When local food is hard to find, you become obsessed with finding something close to the diet you enjoyed,” he said.

Now the Clarkesville-based farmer has expanded the online farmers market to Gainesville. The pickup location is at the Northeast Georgia History Center, 322 Academy St. NE.

Ellis said the website makes the distance between Northeast Georgia farmers and Hall County residents nonexistent.

“It’s a far enough distance that not only could you not get to those farms during the week, but those farms couldn’t get to the markets either,” Ellis said. “This distribution kind of shrunk the distance between everybody.”

Jan Fulcher, a Braselton resident who works in Gainesville, frequently orders from Locally Grown and picks up her order on her way home from work. She became a customer after discovering how much she benefited from the paleo diet, a nutrition plan that recommends followers stick to unprocessed, preferably organic foods.

“A doctor recommended (the paleo diet) to my daughter, and at first I was fighting it because it just didn’t make sense to me, because we’ve been taught so much different from that,” Fulcher said. “But it all comes back to locally grown food, no additives, just real fresh foods. That does make sense in the long run.”

Fulcher and her daughter have seen enviable improvements since they began eating organic, local foods.

“We’ve basically given up processed foods, and it has helped both of us in lots of ways,” Fulcher said. “It does help energy levels. It helps moods. I’ve lost like 12 pounds without really trying.”

The freshness of the food is also a deciding factor when it comes to diet and nutrition. Customers place orders between Friday and Monday, and farmers harvest the orders Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon. Customers then pick up the food Wednesday evening.

“The one thing we definitely know about foods and their nutrition is the more quickly you eat them after they’re harvested, the more nutrition you get from the food,” said Ellis, who has a doctorate in sustainable agriculture from the University of Georgia.

While locally grown foods are nutritionally beneficial, customers stick around most often for another factor: taste.

“If you had a freshly dug carrot versus any grocery store carrot, you will think to yourself there’s no comparison,” Ellis said. “This tastes like a different food. That’s probably the thing that brings people back to our market the most.”

Customers frequently play favorites with the market’s produce, which changes every week according to what farmers deem the freshest or most ready to be harvested.

“So far my favorite is the kale,” Fulcher said. “Two weeks ago I got some fresh kale that was wonderful. I finished eating it yesterday (Tuesday), and it was still fresh-tasting.”

French beans, blueberries, country bread, organic eggs and garlic powder are just some of the items currently featured in the market, which adds new items every week.

“Every week we have a new item come on (the website) that hasn’t been on yet,” Ellis said.

“That’s probably the best thing about it. Cucumbers just came on in the last few weeks. Next week will be the first week we have watermelons. Okra just started. We’ve already had tomatoes for a few weeks, but we’ll have more tomatoes in more varieties.”

Customers may get hungry searching through the 400-plus products on the Locally Grown market website, which may even give them new inspiration about how to throw them together.

“You get ideas for what you’re going to cook as you’re scrolling through the list,” Ellis said.



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