Josette Dark makes the trip from Flowery Branch to Gainesville each week to get fresh produce — and you won’t find her in line at Kroger, Walmart or Publix, but in a parking lot on Brenau University’s campus.
Every week, Dark makes her way to the Northeast Georgia History Center and picks up items she’s ordered online.
Northeast Georgia Locally Grown, an online farmers market, offers fresh and locally-grown produce for pick up each Wednesday throughout the year. With Thanksgiving just days away, some special things have made it online.
“We’re in the chicken capital of the world, and there’s nowhere for small-scale growers to go process their chickens,” said Andrew Linker, co-manager with Northeast Georgia Locally Grown. “So, it actually is a lot of work to get any small-scale, truly pasture-raised, non-GMO chickens and turkeys. So we go across the border and Southern Berkshire Farm is providing us with turkeys this year.”
For those who score one, they’re fresh — not frozen — and being delivered and ready for pick up the day before Thanksgiving.
Linker said it’s a special treat because they typically don’t have turkeys on the list. Another treat for members of the market is cheese from Split Creek Farm. He said customers have been asking about it, and it will finally offer its flavored goat cheese logs and balls, marinated feta cheese, fromage blanc and even fudge, on Nov. 21 only.
If you’re wanting anything from Northeast Georgia Locally Grown, orders can be placed beginning on Friday evenings and are due by 9 p.m. every Monday. They can be picked up at the History Center on Wednesdays from 5 to 6:30 p.m.. There’s a yearly $20 membership fee, but the fee is waived for the first three pickups, giving you a chance to test the market before signing up for the membership.
Dark is a fairly new customer to the market, but she said she’s been enjoying it.
“I had always tried to find local growers from Texas, where I moved from, so I just continued it after moving here,” Dark said. “You just have more personal one-on-one connection with people, and I always want to try to help the somewhat smaller, instead of the big, growers. I always want to help the local growers.”
After looking around for local farmers, she ended up finding Northeast Georgia Locally Grown through a Google search. She’s been able to find most of what she needs through the market’s site, but she has her own garden at home just in case the market doesn’t have it all.
“Being able to order from your phone, wherever you are, even if you’re flying back from your vacation in Europe and know that you can come pick up on Wednesday, that’s a really great feature,” Linker said.
Dark’s favorite order from the market is what she calls a “surprise box.” It’s $15 and she said it usually comes with eight to 10 items inside -- anything from eggplant to squash, bell peppers, thyme, watermelon, pickled okra, baby chard, spinach or kale.
Recently, she found lemon grass in the box and wasn’t sure what it was.
“I had to look up recipes and I found what to do with it,” Dark said. “I actually muddled it and put it into my water pitcher with mint from my garden and just made infused water.”
That’s what she likes the most about the market and the vegetable box especially: It pushes her outside of her cooking comfort zone.
Linker said the whole online part of the market is run by the farmers. They’re the ones who list the items online along with the descriptions, photos and prices.
Northeast Locally Grown Farmers Market
When: Order online from 9 p.m. on Fridays to 9 p.m. on Mondays; Pick up Wednesdays 5 to 6:30 p.m.
Where: Northeast Georgia History Center, 322 Academy St., Gainesville
How much: $20 membership fee, waived for first three pickupsMore info: Online
“The goal of that is they are able to choose the prices that let them continue year after year,” Linker said. “So if the prices of other things they need to run their farm go up, the price of their produce go up.”
He said Northeast Georgia Locally Grown is there to “just help make the cash exchange a little bit easier.”
For Linker, it’s an important market because he’s experienced what it’s like to have fresh, locally-grown food and what it’s like to not.
“I have lived in places where fresh food was so accessible,” Linker said. “When I got here, I couldn’t find food that met my standards … It was harder and harder for me to find it and you have to go farther and farther away.”
That’s why he helped start the Northeast Georgia Locally Grown market in Gainesville four years ago. And ever since then, it’s been growing. The market gets about 35 people each week. And for Thanksgiving, he said he just wants families to enjoy fresh food grown by farmers in the area — most are within 50 miles — without the hassle of worrying if it can be trusted or the trouble of driving miles to find a locally grown option.
“I have talked to customers who routinely would drive 45 minutes south of here to where they felt comfortable buying food from,” Linker said.
Dark has enjoyed it so much, she’s been spreading the word.
“I’m 100 percent pleased with it,” Dark said. “I’ve even told my chiropractor and other people, too, about it because I’m just that excited … it’s a great thing for the community and it’s a wonderful thing for our health. It’s just great.”
And at root, the market is about keeping local food alive.
“I just want to see that small farmers can succeed,” Linker said. “And the end goal is that people can eat that local food and reap the benefits from it.”