New organic farmers' markets emerge in Georgia...but change is slow
Veteran farmers hold their breath as they relaunch metro market in Atlanta

By Skip Connett

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 persists."

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.

Read more about one of Georgia's innovative farming couple:
Approaching harvest time, a Georgia farmer shares his wealth

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Skip Connett is an Atlanta-based freelance writer who grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania and is longing to get back to farming. Until then, writing about organic farming is possibly the next best thing.