Growers and distributors who’ve joined the revamped Georgia Grown program, now in its second year, are excited about the program’s potential.
“It’s been a really big plus for us,” said Tim Mercier, owner of Blue Ridge-based Mercier Orchards, one of the state’s largest apple grower-shippers.
“In the past, a lot of suppliers would stay with Washington or some of the other growing areas and not even try to source local apples,” Mercier said.
“The Georgia Grown program has increased the demand for local apples tremendously,” he said. “We now have access to institutional markets such as schools, where nutritionists are requesting Georgia apples, and a lot of chain stores want to feature locally grown fruit, another big plus.”
Benjamin Pruett, communications director for Destiny Organics in the Atlanta state farmers market in Forest Park, said the program’s success has encouraged Destiny to source as much organic produce as possible from local growers for its wholesale, foodservice and retail customers, which include Kroger supermarkets.
“We’re working hard with our farmers, producers and vendors and with the department of agriculture to make sure that the products are labeled correctly so they’re easily identifiable as Georgia Grown,” said Pruett, who is sourcing organic pumpkins, squash, tomatoes and pecans in September.
“Consumers now have the opportunity to buy some of the best products in the country,” he said, “and we’re strengthening the local economy.”
The program also gives Destiny and other Georgia Grown partners exposure at events such as producer showcases and the Georgia National Fair in October, Pruett said.
According to a recent study by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, each 5% increase in locally grown products sold adds about $44 million to Georgia’s economy and 345 jobs.
Mary Kathryn Yearta, chief communications officer for the department of agriculture in Atlanta, said her department also has had fantastic support from Harvey’s Supermarkets in southern Georgia, which showcases local products with its Georgia Grown displays.
The department also has partnered with the Georgia Restaurant Association to promote local food in the state’s 16,000 restaurants.
In addition, four executive chefs have been chosen as 2013 ambassadors to offer training and recipe development for school culinary and nutrition programs.
“Georgia Grown has been such a success, we can’t keep up with how many people who are interested in it,” Yearta said.
“Everybody has lots of really good ideas, and there’s so much to do it’s been a problem getting the manpower to keep up with everything.”