Georgia’s agriculture industry becoming more global and more local

By Saba Long

“Agriculture and Commerce.” It’s the motto on the back (or front) of our two-sided state seal. And as State Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black reminded the audience in his keynote address at last week’s Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable, we participate in the state’s agriculture industry three times per day.

From 1776 to present day, agriculture is big business for the state, generating more than $71 billion in economic activity, and it accounts for 87,000 full and part-time jobs.

Georgia is leading the nation in blueberry and pecan production and third in cucumber sales. Cotton is the number two commodity in the state, and we have 43 slaughter houses. State agriculture leaders now participate in international trade missions, increasing the local output.

Those numbers should shed some light as to why Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed have worked together on freight transportation matters and the deepening of the Savannah port.

Joining Black for the Roundtable discussion, “Farm to Fork: Transforming Georgia’s Local Food System,” were Jenni Harris of White Oak Pastures; Julia Gaskin with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; and moderator Don Cooper of Georgia Organics.

For most, the “Georgia Grown” moniker conjures up images of leafy vegetables and juicy fruits, but Harris shed some light on her farm’s impact on the local meat industry.

A fifth generation farmer, she returned to Early County after college to join the family business as its marketing manager. White Oak Pasture’s grass-fed beef, poultry and lamb are sold at Whole Foods and Publix.

It’s also the only farm in the state to have USDA monitored and approved abattoirs for both its red and white meat. By capitalizing on consumer trends and sustainable processing techniques, they have grown from five to 85 employees in just a few years.

According to UGA’s College of Agriculture, the state has experienced remarkable growth in the number of local farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). Documentaries such as Food, Inc. and the recent discussions regarding Monsanto and the production of genetically modified food have heightened consumers’ interests in where the food comes from.

Gaskin noted the importance of providing Georgia growers with the necessary infrastructure to get their produce to the wholesale market, including local school systems. For farms too small to provide the quantity necessary for wholesalers, they can work with a food hub.

A cross-country emerging trend, food hubs can serve as a way for farmers to provide their produce locally but on a broader scale. According to Farm Aid, they are broadly defined as facilities that manage the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution or marketing of locally and regionally produced food.  Food hubs can help farmers manage their supply to meet demand, provide healthy options for food deserts and support rural economies.

Commissioner Black appropriately noted his office is closely monitoring the Farm Bill and its potential impact on Georgia’s agriculture community – particularly as it relates to food inspections. He strongly hinted that he would rather the state take a larger role in shaping the future of agriculture, with less federal involvement.

The next generation of farming will likely continue to promote local food options while increasing Georgia’s exports. The state continues to excel in this deeply-rooted and increasingly-diversified agricultural industry.

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

2 replies
  1. writes_of_weigh says:

    Ms. Long – I wonder if Cordele, Georgia would now be identified, as a “food hub”, with the recent(2011/12) linking, by rail(double stack TEU’s((shipping containers))) to the port in Savannah, and soon via a McRae, Georgia rail connect to the port in Brunswick? I believe that with Cordele’s claim of being the “watermelon capitol of the world”, and housing nearby frozen food processing/storage facilities, as well as trans-shipment’s either inbound/outbound of a former Govenor’s grain stocks, and forwarding portions of a former President’s peanut crop for trans-oceanic shipment, must certainly at least place Cordele in the running for such a label. The designation of Inland Port, for processing such shipments will certainly lend credence to the type realignment/rationalization of the food/agribusiness you cover in your article. One wonders if the need to speed processed(frozen) chicken feet to Asian markets via Georgia’s port infrastructure, won’t shortly lead to Madison or Athens joining the Inland Port ranks with direct port connectivity, as has Cordele?Report

    Reply
  2. Wish for MIlton County says:

    The inland port terminal at Codele seems to be in the right place at the right time.  I would think another facility in southwest Georgia would help drive the forest products, agriculture industries there.  Does anyone know the TEU count for the Cordele Terminal?
    Upgrading rail to Savannah & Brunswick will help not only metro Atlanta, but the entire state and the southeast.  Agricutlure is big business in Alabama, Tennessee, and the Carolinas.  So is manufacturing.  I believe there are more automobile assembly & parts plants in Alabama now than in most other states except Michigan.  Hundyi & Kia are exporting cars.  Mecedes Benz is planning to as well.  Brunswick has become the car transport port for the southest (Jacksonville is too).
    Georgia ports must compete with Norfolk, Charleston, Mobile, Jacksonville, Tampa and New Orleans. It is imperative that both ports be ready to handle the post Pamex size ships.  Or, we will not be able to compete.
    The newly touted Import/Export Highway connecting I-85 & I-185 to I-16 seems appropriate if the Georgia Ports want to compete for port traffic from Alabama, Mississipi, and Tennessee.
    Beleive it or not, there seems to be a plan evolving a G-DOT for GEORGIA!  What a CONCEPT!Report

    Reply

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