Georgia’s own greens, berries, grapes, melons, corn and a wide array of other items are gaining a strong following in Atlanta, according to agriculture officials and produce vendors there.
Georgia Grown is a state-funded program, which has potential to grow tremendously, said Gary Black, Georgia commissioner of agriculture.
“I want to see the Georgia Grown moniker, the trademark, all the materials that growers can use better used,” he said. “I want to use the Web and new media, which does incorporate Facebook and Twitter and everything else. We’re going to be very aggressive there. There are a lot of assets there we can use.”
Black said he’s not afraid to take that message to consumers.
“I’m hopeful we can be friendlier in using the pulpit of this office, even if it’s just going on the morning talk shows in Atlanta,” he said. “I’ll be far more receptive to those types of opportunities. I hope to get to a point where we can have a consumer-oriented communications person in the coming days. I can use the pulpit of elected office.”
The message about Georgia produce has been resonating for several years, produce vendors said.
“It’s a good business,” said Bryan Thornton, general manager of Coosemans Atlanta Inc. “We’re starting to see a lot more people.”
Coosemans is more a specialty house, but the company also procures locally grown fruits and vegetables, Thornton said.
“We handle a lot of baby squash and baby carrots,” he said. “We’re starting to see more fresh herb growers, and we’re purchasing from them. We’re starting to get into conventional items, with some eggplants and a little bit of squash, but not a big volume at all. Just when people have it seasonally, locally, then we’ll procure it.”
Georgia’s only issue with “homegrown” produce is the same as with other states’ local produce, some vendors say.
“That’s the hundred-thousand-dollar question,” said Terry Shirley, vice president of sales and marketing with Athena Farms, Atlanta. “I think it’s getting bigger. The problem is being able to get it and being able to get a variety that people want is the biggest issue. I mean, in the middle of the winter, unless it’s grown hydroponically indoors what are you going to eat? It’s a great alternative in the summer.”
However he added, when it’s in season Georgia Grown products are in strong demand.
“Georgia Grown is a huge success, and in the right times and growing seasons it’s tremendous,” he said.
Its popularity is increasing, said Mike Jardina, president of J.J. Jardina Co. Inc., Atlanta.
“The demand has definitely increased, especially in the last year,” he said.
There are several reasons, he said.
“I think a lot has to do with the 5 a Day program and the commissioner’s office pushing the Georgia products, advertising and people just wanting to support their local economy, especially in these rough times,” he said.
Homegrown sales parallel the demand for organic produce, said Diana Earwood, vice president of Atlanta-based Sutherland’s Foodservice Inc.
“A lot of people want to push for organics and a lot of people push for locally grown,” she said. “Most people are more interested in the locally grown. Obviously, now it’s difficult in the winter, but it’s asked for. It’s the quality. If it’s there, they want it first. We try to work our ways around our neighboring states. People like locally grown.”
Higher transportation costs may feed the growth of Georgia Grown, said Hubert Nall, president of Hubert H. Nall Co. Inc., Forest Park, Ga.
“People will understand there’s a lot of good fresh produce here,” Nall said.