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Locally grown food could boost states economy
Dennis Hollifield of Gainesville chooses the best tomatoes from the Barnes’ Greenhouse & Produce stand Tuesday at the Hall County Farmers Market in Gainesville. Research at the University of Georgia shows the state could benefit financially if produce grown in Georgia is sold in the state. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Places to get local produce



The Spout Springs Library Farmers Market, Flowery Branch. 4-7 p.m. or when produce sells out, Thursdays, Spout Springs Library, 6488 Spout Springs Road, Flowery Branch.

Sunshine Seniors Fruit & Veggie Stand, Gainesville. 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, Hall County Health Department, 1290 Athens St., Gainesville.  

The Historic Downtown Gainesville Market on the Square, Gainesville. Farmers market with plants, herbs, honey, bread and local produce. 2:30-6:30 p.m. Fridays, downtown Gainesville in the parking lot at the intersection of Main and Spring streets. 678-943-4442 or  

Hall County Farmers Market, Gainesville. 6:30 a.m. to sellout Tuesdays and 7:30 a.m. to sellout Saturdays, Hall County Farmers Market, Jesse Jewell Parkway and East Crescent Drive, just off Interstate 985 at Exit 24. 770-535-8293. 

If local fruits and veggies stick around, it could mean a big bonus for Georgia’s economy.

According to research conducted by the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, if each Georgia household spent $10 per week on produce grown in Georgia, more than $1.9 billion would be pumped back into the state’s economy.

“When we spend dollars locally, that money then circulates in our community so we have indirect benefits,” said Alice Rolls, executive director of Georgia Organics.

Currently, only a small portion of food grown in Georgia ends up on tables around the state.

According to the 2007 Agricultural Census, Georgia’s direct sales accounted for just 0.18 percent of total sales.

“When you look at what we eat and you compare that to what we grow, the differences are staggering,” Rolls said.

A good example is lettuce.

The study found that the average Georgian eats about 30 pounds of fresh lettuce per year — about 285 million pounds statewide.

Georgia farmers produce less than 245,000 pounds per year, which is less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the amount of lettuce that Georgians consume. Closing that gap would generate an additional $83.6 million in lettuce sales.

Georgia’s large scale farms grow commodities such as peanuts and soybeans that are sold around the world, Rolls said.

“Agriculture is our No. 1 industry in the state,” Rolls said. “Georgia has gone much more in the direction of large farms, especially in south Georgia.”

Steven Thomas, who works in the food processing technology division at Georgia Tech and serves as the market manager for downtown Gainesville’s farmers market, said there is a lot that can be done to promote local produce.

He said contracts between farmers and local businesses and institutions would provide farmers with guaranteed customers.

“The concept is that if farmers had contracts with say a restaurant, then a contractual agreement is money in the bank and they could expand their farm operations by building greenhouses and growing 12 months out of the year instead of just the particular growing season,” Thomas said. “What we’re trying to do is keep the Hall County farmers selling in Hall County. The money that the farmers make stays in Hall County and gets spent by them within Hall County.”

Rolls and Thomas believe the state’s next agriculture commissioner could play a big part in promoting local food.

“I’ve known (Republican candidate) Gary Black for about 12 years and we’ve talked about this a lot,” Thomas said.

“He feels excited about initiatives that will help farmers expand their operations in meeting the demand for local food around the state.”

“Our hope is that we can work with the next commissioner to develop these needs and opportunities,” Rolls said.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture welcomed the report as data that will prove the value of expanding its Georgia Grown campaign, launched in 2002.

“We continue to promote Georgia Grown for direct, wholesale, retail and commercial markets locally and internationally,” said Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin in a statement.

The Department of Agriculture is working to boost the sales of Georgia produce through launching a Georgia Grown website, improving state farmers markets, aiding farmers and fostering relationships with grocery stores to offer Georgia produce when possible.

Rolls said Georgia is far below the national average when it comes to consuming local produce, but the research points out the state’s potential for direct sales with the addition of local processing and distribution infrastructure.

Rhode Island sold 9.5 percent of its agricultural products directly to consumers and Massachusetts sold 8.5 percent through direct sales.