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From Web to table: Grant helps farmers market reach customers
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Georgia Mountains Farmers Network,
Drop-off site: Northeast Georgia History Center, 322 Academy St., Gainesville

An Internet-based farmers market was awarded a grant Wednesday to help get the word out and expand in Gainesville.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development of Georgia announced last week an award of $38,585 to Georgia Mountains Farmers Network. The network’s Northeast Georgia Locally Grown Farmers Market allows customers to make selections online and pick them up at a drop-off site.

“It shortens the distance and the time commitment that the producers are going to have,” said Deborah Callahan, the state’s rural development public information coordinator.

Started in 2010, the farmers market recently moved into Gainesville with a drop-off location at the Northeast Georgia History Center, 322 Academy St.

“For the last year, we’ve been planning on expanding to Gainesville just because it’s close by and it’s a great urban market that we think a lot of customers will be interested in the types of things that we have,” said Justin Ellis, the market’s co-manager.

Ellis said the grant proposal was written in February, which would be later selected in October. While waiting to see if the grant would be successful, the farmers market started its first drop-offs in Gainesville in June.

The Gainesville market represents 100 of the 815 customers to receive emails about the market.

“Since we’ve started in June, we’ve already seen such a bump up in our sales that it’s probably going to equate to nearly a doubling of the market,” Ellis said.

Total sales last year reached $48,000, with the group anticipating a goal of $100,000 in 2015.

The grant is for marketing purposes. Ellis met with a firm last week to begin the process.

The goal is to work with other groups in the area — particularly Gainesville’s medical community and civic groups — about the benefits of locally produced foods.

When searching for the Gainesville drop-off location, Ellis said there was no better place than the History Center.

“The History Center is such a great partner for us because it’s in a part of Gainesville that’s very sort of pedestrian-friendly and easy to find on the way home from people’s work,” Ellis said.

For the Value Added Producer Grant program, the Georgia rural development branch hopes to meet the increasing demand for locally grown food. Farms connected to the market are usually about 1 acre to as large as 15 acres, Ellis said.

Ellis hopes an additional benefit of the expansion will be the connection of Gainesville to its surrounding areas.

“We’re excited about this not just in terms of farms and people’s access to local food on a year-round basis, but more importantly I think it’s going to build a really unique relationship between Gainesville residents and rural mountain communities,” Ellis said.

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