Eat our veggies, stimulate economy

Farmers markets are making their yearly comeback in town squares and along Georgia roadsides, reminding us the local harvest is here. Savoring fresh, delicious and nutritious Georgia-grown food — from peaches to pecans to chicken — isn’t just a healthy choice, but a good economic and environmental one, too.

A recent study conducted by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development shows that if each Georgia household spent $10 weekly buying local food, nearly $2 billion would flow back into the state’s economy.

Unfortunately, 80 percent of what we spend on food comes from outside the state. It’s time to do things differently.

The local-food movement sweeping the nation has taken hold in Georgia. Farmers markets, pick-your-own operations and food festivals point us to local fare. The Riverside Farmers Market in Roswell offers customers more than 50 vendors selling Georgia products.

Or, if you want to taste mouth-watering strawberries, pick your own at farms across Georgia.

And, don’t miss Georgia Organic’s annual Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival in August, where 800 people — teenagers to 70-somethings —enjoy drinks and dishes infused with locally grown tomatoes prepared by 25 local chefs.

Kroger, Publix and Walmart have boarded the local food bandwagon, too. They promote Georgia-grown food and sometimes feature the farmer who supplies it.

South Georgia vegetable farmer Bill Brim says in one advertisement that he can load up his truck with produce in the morning and unload it at Atlanta Kroger stores in the afternoon.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed expects to “bring local food within 10 minutes of 75 percent of all residents by 2020” as part of his sustainability plan. The Beltline master plan now includes farms and community gardens. Clients in the city’s largest homeless shelter, Atlanta Mission, are growing some of their vegetables in raised beds on land adjacent to their facility.

Shoppers have a cornucopia of local food choices. Georgia is a big state with soils and climates that allow farmers to grow a variety of food year-round.

In North Georgia, vineyards, apple orchards and chicken farms dot the hillsides. Dairy and beef farms, pick-your-own fruit operations and Vidalia onion farms sprawl across Middle Georgia.

South Georgia is the vegetable, fruit and nut hub of the state, where tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, sweet corn, watermelons, cantaloupe, peanuts, pecans and peaches thrive.

Georgia leads the U.S. in poultry production and supplies half the nation’s peanuts. The coastal waters yield shrimp, crab and a variety of fin fish.

Since Colonial days, agriculture has been Georgia’s No. 1 industry. Today it employs 383,000 people and generates $65 billion for the state’s economy.

Look for Georgia-grown food in supermarkets and farmers markets. Why buy lettuce transported 3,000 miles when you can purchase it locally from farmers who have a short commute from farm to market and access to best environmental practices.

Join the fun at food festivals savoring the season’s fruits and vegetables. Volunteer to help at community, school or institutional gardens. By supporting Georgia-grown food we secure Georgia’s food and economic future and protect the environment.

Susan Varlamoff is director of the Office of Environmental Sciences and a Master Gardener at the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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