Growing our own produce will grow our own economy

By Maria Saporta

The bottom line for Georgia — grow your own.

A new study by the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development documents how buying Georgia-grown produce contributes to our economy.

If each of the 3.7 million households in Georgia devoted $10 a week to buying produce grown in the state, it would pump $1.9 billion into Georgia’s economy.

Alice Rolls, executive director of Georgia Organics, said in a statement that the findings of the study are “some of the strongest demonstrations so far of what a small change in consumer behavior could mean for farmers and for the entire state.

Rolls also said that she hopes the study will motivate state leaders to encourage “every day foods for our Southern diets growing in the fields of Georgia.”

Although agribusiness is an important part of Georgia’s economy, Georgians eat less than the national average of locally-grown food. Currently, direct farmer to consumer sales contribute 132 jobs, $4.5 million labor income and $14.4 million in sales.

The study determined that if Georgia produce farmers increased direct farm-to-consumer produce sales to the national average, it would have an overall statewide contribution of 228 jobs, $8.1 million in labor income and $25.8 million in sales.

For example, the average Georgia eats about 30 pounds of fresh lettuce per year, or about 285 million pounds statewide. But the state only grows about 245,000 pounders a year, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the amount of lettuce that Georgians consume

There are other major gaps in what Georgians eat and what Georgia grows — apples, bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, pecans, tomatoes and watermelon.

According to the 2007 Agricultural Census, Georgia direct sales accounted for .18 percent of their total sales. By comparison, Rhode Island sold 9..5 percent of its agricultural products directly to consumers and Massachusetts sold 8.5 million through direct sales.

Kent Wolf, an agricultural economist who authored the UGA study, said farmers get to keep a larger percentage of their sales when they sell directly to stores, restaurants and consumers.

“Looking at the quantity of foods directly marketed in Georgia,” Wolfe said in statement, “there is a tremendous opportunity there.”

Click here to read the entire study.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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