Georgia farmer’s markets to return, pop-up style, as farmers struggle

ATLANTA — Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, the University of Georgia’s agricultural college, and its networks of farm cooperative extension offices are working to create markets for Georgia produce.

In a one-on-one interview, Black told Channel 2’s Chris Jose that pop-up farmers markets will be set up at several Georgia locations this month.

“Our call to everyone right now, Chris, is buy Georgia grown and buy it now. Now, more than ever,” said Black.

The first pop-market was held May 20 in Dalton where 300,000 pounds of Georgia-grown produce were handed out. Between 300 to 400 volunteers divided fruits and vegetables into 20,000 boxes. Each one sold for $20.

[Hundreds turn out for drive-thru farmers market to help out Georgia farmers]

The next “Georgia Grown To-Go” drive-thru farmers market is scheduled for Saturday at Al Bishop Park in Marietta. It’s scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Another is scheduled for May 27 in Gwinnett County at Coolray Field from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Some local farmers markets in metro Atlanta are currently not operating during the pandemic.

Jose checked with organizers at the Marietta Square farmers market. They said they’re waiting for city clearance. Right now, the reopening date is set for May 30.

[Georgia farmer talks crop demand, disruption during coronavirus outbreak]

At Spreading Oaks Farm in Paulding County, the Cook family is relying on online sales. They said revenue is down 35 percent.

The Cooks usually sell their produce directly to consumers at farmers markets and metro Atlanta restaurants.

“The busy season is coming upon us, so if we don’t see some way of being able to sell, it will be devastating for small farmers,” said Ken Cook. “The next four months is basically what’s going to make or break small farmers.”

Spreading Oaks Farm is offering contactless pick-up at its farm. The Cooks also have several drop off and pick-up location sites throughout the week in Cobb County. Customers purchase orders online.

“I think the biggest advantage is, you know where your produce is grown. You know how it has been handled or who it has been handled by,” said Cook.

Hometown Honey is also relying on online sales, but the Kennesaw-based small business is feeling the pinch.

“It’s (revenue) off by at least half. We’ve lost all our local farmers markets,” said owner Brian Higgins. “We also do all the Bed Bath and Beyond throughout the state of Georgia and they’re all completely shut down right now.”

Higgins supports Black’s push to buy Georgia grown products.

“You’re also cutting out the middleman. You’re buying directly from the producers now,” said Higgins.

While Black is pushing the farm to table concept, he cautions that Georgia agriculture has a large portfolio.

“The food system has a lot of valuable partners, so it’s not so much cutting anybody out, but there is a lot of product to move,” said Black. “I think we have to creative on how that happens.”