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UGA Extension helps Georgia Grown connect to consumers

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Like the moments before a race begins, dozens of staff with Georgia Grown and University of Georgia Cooperative Extension prepared to load thousands of pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables into hundreds of waiting cars and trucks stretched out in long lines at the Gwinnett Georgia Grown to Go event in Lawrenceville, Georgia, on May 27, even before the 3 p.m. start time.

Held at Coolray Field, the event was the third in a series of events being held around metro Atlanta to give consumers a chance to purchase produce straight from the farm — and to give farmers the opportunity to sell crops that have seen the marketplace narrow due to the COVID-19 crisis.

“There is food that is growing in Georgia that is just going to rot in the fields if the farmers can’t find buyers, and we have hunger on the other end,” said Mary Black, county coordinator and Family and Consumer Sciences agent with the Gwinnett County UGA Extension office. “We hope this will help connect the farmers with the people who need the food.”

In addition to helping coordinate the event with county officials, Gwinnett County Extension provided each customer with information packets that included recipes, nutrition information, and tips on food preservation and food safety, as well as links to UGA Extension resources available at extension.uga.edu/topic-areas/food-health.

The event’s online presale orders totaled $82,733 for mixed vegetable boxes, flats of blueberries, cases of peaches, bags of Vidalia onions, as well as artisan cheeses and gourmet cooking sauces, all from Georgia producers, said Paul Thompson, deputy director of marketing and promotion with Georgia Grown, a division of the Georgia Department of Agriculture focused on promoting agribusinesses. Day-of sales generated another $21,146.

Tina Fleming, director of community services with Gwinnett County, said that the event served as an opportunity to bring fresh produce to the county’s residents and to assist disadvantaged members of the community. Those who ordered online ahead of the event were given the option to pay to donate a box of produce to local service organizations, resulting in the donation of 118 boxes of produce and, after the event, farmers donated another 1,004 boxes of vegetables, 218 flats of blueberries, 10 boxes of peaches and 120 pounds of onions for food-insecure Gwinnett citizens. 

“This has been a multiagency event and a great partnership for us,” said Fleming. “There was a lot of talk about the event on social media and it has been a benefit for our county residents, as well as generating donations for 11 community nonprofit agencies that serve the county.”

Coolray Field, where the event was held, is a Gwinnett County-owned venue that is the home of the minor league Georgia Stripers baseball team. The setting offered an ideal location, with nearby access to I-85 and the space to accommodate the trucks needed to deliver the produce as well as customer traffic.

“We hope to be able to do this again this year,” Fleming said.

Corbett Brothers Farms from Lake Park, Georgia, and Southern Valley Fruit and Vegetable from Norman Park, Georgia, worked together to bring 2,750 boxes of mixed vegetables to Gwinnett for the event.

Ken Corbett, founder of Corbett Brothers Farms, said the Georgia Grown to Go events have helped fill a void left when revenues from food service and restaurant customers dropped due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“I have been pleasantly surprised in the amount of interest we’ve seen and, just as important, is educating consumers on what Georgia farmers grow,” said Corbett, whose family farm started in 1987 with 1 acre of bell peppers and now primarily grows bell peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash, along with about a half dozen smaller scale crops, on 3,000 acres. “As farmers, we help each other out all the time, and it has been good to have Georgia Grown on our side in this.”

Customers were encouraged to post about their experience on social media using #GeorgiaGrownToGo.

“Great event in Gwinnett yesterday! Well run and very organized, even with long lines and rain. My fridge is stocked with wonderful fresh veggies and fruits! So happy to support our Georgia farmers,” wrote Gwinnett County consumer Debbie Holmes Martin on Facebook.

Information on upcoming Georgia Grown to Go events is available at georgiagrowntogo.com and additional resources for producers and consumers are available at extension.uga.edu.

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