July's Note from the Executive Director

Recently I’ve found myself in several targeted discussions surrounding local food. More specifically the role farmers markets play in cultivating communities.  One thing is for sure, it is hard to bring a group of people together without involving food. It is also impossible to discuss the basic food needs of a community without creating space for conversations around topics such as access, sustainability, sovereignty and justice. Last week in Norcross, I sat on a panel with two of Gwinnett’s local food champions Karla Blaginin of Dichos de la Casa and Connie Weathers of Sustainable Norcross. We were also joined by Jassan Gilliam of Gilliam’s Community Garden; a long standing Atlanta farm that has been a part of the Norcross Community market since its inception in 2015. Foodwell Alliance hosted this Local Food Forum in order the highlight the work being done in Gwinnett County surrounding local food. Residents were able to hear directly from a farmer about the challenges she faces because she is determined to make local food available to the community. As community builders, we discussed how difficult it is to carry all the eggs in a such a small basket… it really has to be a team effort. But how do we work best for the greater good?  Together we have to find ways to go beyond the surface of the challenges our communities face. Do we have disinterested residents or have we, as leaders, stopped short in our efforts towards inclusion?

What represents us better than the soil beneath our feet. It is a living, breathing testament to our history. It encompasses all the good, the bad, and the utterly unimaginable. If what you do in this lifetime doesn't advance the soil for the next generation, then you are just standing still in place; or worse, keeping us from moving forward. The soil is our freedom. Claim it. Beyond anything else, humanity is central to being engaged with the world around us. How do we find fulfillment in this lifetime? Be loyal to the soil. Dig deep. Freedom is there. - Karla Blaginin

GFMA aims to empower and improve communities by supporting the foot soldiers: those determined that not only see that things can be better… they are willing to lead the charge! We guide them through the process of identifying other stakeholders, getting direct feedback from their neighbors,  and then creating or adapting their local farmers markets to meet everyone’s needs. We see these markets not only as a way to improve the lives of local farmers and lead to healthier lifestyles for customers, but also as a way to bring the entire community together.

Our work in Norcross (in partnership with FoodWell Alliance, Sustainable Norcross, and Dichos de la Casa) is a great testament to what we do as an organization in terms of bringing community values and needs into the farmers market setting.  The incentives, food demonstrations, and entertainment we provide at this market have not only increased its traffic but created a stronger sense of community within this area. We have also taken a little of the pressure off of new markets vendors by providing the  ServSafe course in Spanish and offering support as they set up booths at the market. When we are able to bring people of different backgrounds together in a space such as the farmers market, members of the community are able to engage with each and see the importance of supporting their neighbors.

 Stay tuned as we further develop our soil here at the Georgia Farmers Market Association.  We’ve had a bountiful harvest the last two seasons but as we dig deeper, we look to find more ways to enrich the communities we serve.