Vision and Goals
“Little more than a century ago, nearly half of all Americans farmed. Americans now get nearly a quarter of all their fruits and vegetables and more than half of all their seafood from foreign countries. A typical morsel of food journeys 1,400 miles before it reaches a mouth—50 times farther than it did 20 years ago—changing hands at least six times along the way.”1
Beginning in the 1970s, but increasingly over the last ten to fifteen years, there has been a national movement toward eating locally, sustainably grown produce. Locally, sustainably grown produce results in several proven benefits: higher quality food, reduced energy consumption, and a positive economic impact. Georgia has made a firm commitment to economic development in its rural areas through the One Georgia concept and the Georgia Grown initiative. Increasing the state’s supply and distribution of its local food is directly consistent with this commitment.
Georgia, and other southeastern states, is home to a high number of these food deserts—urban areas that are not reached in the distribution chain for fresh, locally grown produce. There are vital, untapped areas where consumers would readily buy locally grown, if only the opportunity was available.
Agriculture, Georgia’s oldest and largest industry, contributes more than $65 billion annually to Georgia’s $785.5 billion economy.2 One in seven Georgians works in agriculture, forestry, or related fields. Georgia is perennially the number one state in the nation in the production of peanuts, pecans, and watermelons. The state is also a top producer of cotton, peaches, eggs, tomatoes, onions, melons, cabbage, and blueberries. From a cultural perspective, farming is a source of pride throughout the state. Farmers utilize modern conservation and best production practices to protect the environment and grow safer, healthier crops.
Georgia is unique in that it owns and operates several farmers markets throughout the state. Indeed, the Atlanta Farmers Market serves as a distribution hub for produce throughoutGeorgia and the southeastern U.S. Only a few states have state-run farmers markets, and both producers and consumers benefit from this system. Under state controlled operations, farmers enjoy fewer barriers to entry than they would experience with a private market. The state-run markets provide a forum for farmers to sell their produce directly to the consumer. In addition to the network of state owned and operated farmers markets, Georgia benefits from permanent non-profit markets and seasonal non-profit markets in the state.
The Georgia Department of Agriculture conducted a preliminary assessment of the supply dynamics and concluded that farmers markets would be an excellent network for the distribution of locally grown products. State farmers markets were established in the 1960s. Buyers valued the opportunity to purchase directly from the farmer who grew the produce. However, the shift from a community-based to commodity-based market eroded this local relationship. Farmers’ stalls remain empty in many markets, leaving bulk buyers and wholesalers as the dominant presence. Nevertheless, the markets’ locations and infrastructure may provide opportunity to utilize these markets to address the renewed interest in the distribution and supply of locally grown produce within Georgia.
For Georgia, the ability to supply locally grown produce through the statewide network of farmers markets is dependent upon identifying and addressing the constraints while seizing opportunities to exhibit the benefits of utilizing these venues.
Goals and Objectives
Elements of the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s vision include the following goals:
- Increase the economic vitality of Georgia
- Improve the health of Georgia residents
- Create a sustainable agriculture system in Georgia
- Build a bridge between urban and rural populations of Georgia.
Accordingly, the Department’s Markets Division has adopted these priorities:
- Increase utilization of the State Farmers’ Market, as well as non-profit and community farmers’ markets to increase the sale of locally grown produce
- Increase the availability of healthy food to Georgia’s populations
- Implement new marketing and distribution strategies for locally grown produce
Using these state goals and priorities as a basis, the project is designed to achieve the following objectives:
- Identify opportunities and constraints to the supply and distribution of locally grown produce
- Create a distribution model that utilizes the network of farmers’ markets to increase the sale of locally grown produce
- Disseminate project findings and outcomes to key stakeholders throughout Georgia and other states