Posted June 27, 2003: Conditions seem ideal
for metro Atlanta’s newest farmer’s market: six
veteran farmers with diverse products to sell; a quaint courthouse
square surrounded by fine restaurants and plenty of pedestrians;
and a marketing campaign that has generated media coverage,
storefront posters, and its own website.
So why is the organic farming community holding its breath?
Previous attempts to start a market in downtown Decatur have
failed. And even as supercharged Whole Foods Market opens
its third store in the area, Atlanta residents have been slow
to change their food shopping habits.
“We’re way behind and I’m not sure why,”
says Fred Conrad, director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank,
whose market produce comes from its Garden For Youth program.
“In the middle of nowhere in upstate New York, community
supported subscription farms are huge. Here, we have 4 million
people and we can’t get two.”
Indeed, until this spring, only one organic farmers market
– in the nearby upscale Morningside community -- could
be found inside the Atlanta perimeter. And that market took
years to establish. Recently, farmers markets have sprouted
up in towns surrounding Atlanta, such as Dunwoody and Carrolton.
But it is in progressive Decatur, with 18,000 residents just
six miles from downtown Atlanta, where the future of Atlanta's
organic farming movement is being tested.
"What makes this market so exciting is that it was completely
initiated by consumers, and with so many families here it
just seems like a natural fit,” says Craig Triplett,
executive director of Georgia Organics. “So the expectations
are high, and yet we know we haven’t done a good enough
job educating consumers."
Georgia Organics is forming a partnership with Whole Foods.
On June 14, one of the chain's stores donated 5% of all sales
to the 300-member organization. Workshops for gardeners and
other consumers are also planned.
If one ingredient in this recipe for success is missing,
it is the farmers. One can count the number of producers serving
the Decatur and Morningside markets on two hands.
“The market potential for organics in Georgia far exceed
our goals to meet them,” acknowledges Triplett. “Our
biggest challenge now is recruiting and encouraging more organic
farmers to produce the products.”
Organic farmer Skip Glover, who was instrumental in getting
the markets started in Carrolton and Decatur, has had to depend
on outside grants and partnerships with land conservation
groups to get farmers organized and marketed.
“The support hasn't come from the state, so we've had
to do it on our own. We get calls from all over Georgia asking
if people in our community can come talk about how they can
get started. But the old plantation method or syndrome still
Georgia Organics' long-term goal is to have a locally grown
farmers market within 30 minutes of everyone in the state.
Organic cook Renu Reed, who shops at Decatur and Morningside
each week, has a bigger vision. “It want them to be
every other block, like schools,” she says.
For now, simply establishing a second market inside the perimeter
seems like a big accomplishment.