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We all live on an organic farm: Patricia Kyritsi Howell shares the bounty of eating organic and local Georgia produce.

I recently informally polled of a group of Georgians whom I consider fairly progressive and visionary about the effects of environmental toxins on their health. Every one of them claimed to be extremely concerned--even worried. Over the past twenty years, these are people who have volunteered and sent donations to support environmental causes. Several of these folks earn their living in alternative medicine or nonprofit organizations devoted to Earth-friendly programs. Most of them avoid pharmaceuticals in favor of herbs and vitamins.

All the people I asked admitted that buying organic foods isn't a priority for them.

How could movers and shakers in so many areas of social change, health care, and spiritual growth be unaware of the connection between conventional agriculture, environmental degradation, and food choices? "Organic costs too much," they explained.

I kept probing. I found out that these people are so busy they eat out five or more times a week. I decided there must be some other reason besides cost for their not choosing organic. What would inspire these otherwise environmentally conscientious people to change their buying habits?

I began thinking of people I know who make organic food a priority. I did another poll. "Why do you overlook the cost and extra effort required to seek out organics?"

"I feel a sense of responsibility to be there with my food dollars to support the farmers," most of them told me. Many of these organic buyers have shopped for years at small local markets such as the Morningside Farmers' Market in Atlanta (the first totally organic market in the US.) Over time, these shoppers have developed relationships with the growers. Together, they share excitement over the first tomatoes or a particularly succulent crop of blueberries.

Minnesota's Land Stewardship Project found that for organic farming to work on the local level, people need to "put a face on their food "by cultivating a relationship with the person who grows it. The Minnesota project discovered that when consumers and growers realize their mutual interdependence, it isn't so easy to buy only what appears to be cheapest in an anonymous grocery store. Farmer and author Wendell Berry suggests that the most important thing non-farming people can do is to get it that eating is as much of an agricultural act as is planting a field of vegetables.

Organic farming is an all day, every day labor intensive job, but it is without purpose if Georgia consumers don't value the effort enough to pay a realistic price for this commitment. Preserving family-owned farms, maintaining soil fertility and growing open pollinated organic seeds are costly ventures. The government provides no subsidies for environmentally sound agricultural practices. A small-scale local grower of organic foods is completely dependent on committed consumers willing to pay for the harvest when it comes out of the field.

Several years ago, I asked organic farmer Ryan Cohen how he kept at it day in and day out in the sweltering Georgia sun during the height of summer. For many years, Ryan farmed at Eastlake Commons in Decatur and sold his produce through a community supported agriculture program (CSA). Ryan said that when he felt overwhelmed by the hard work and the heat, he remembered the members of his CSA and how excited they were each week to pick up their vegetables. He thought about the children who knew exactly where their food came from because they had seen growing for months in the fields of his farm. "I'm part of a complete circle of giving and receiving that starts when I plant the seeds and ends when I feel the gratitude of the families who ate the foods I grew," he explained.

As Georgiais growing season gets underway, each one of us has the chance to change the way we choose food. More and more farmersi markets have sprung up around the state. Not all these markets are all strictly organic, but they all feature fresh vegetables and fruits direct from nearby farms. As you get to know the growers, keep in mind that since the National Organics Standards program went into effect last fall many farms that still practice organic farming have chosen not to participate in the Federal program and become "certified," though they continue to farm organically.

When we see growing and eating food as a way to create and maintain a community of interdependent people who are guaranteed a source of clean land and water, the nourishment spreads beyond considering only the nutritional value of a certain relatively expensive carrot. Spending a little more to buy food from local, organic growers you know becomes one of the ingredients for real Homeland Security.

Patricia Kyritsi Howell is a medical herbalist, teacher and author of Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians: A Guide for Field and Clink (Sept. 2003) and President of Georgia Organics, Inc. ( She lives in Mountain City, Georgia.

Farmers Markets in Georgia

Athens Downtown Farmer's Market

When: mid-May thru mid-August

Time: Saturday, 7-12 noon

Where: Athens 300 College Avenue

Contact: Frank Henning at 706-613-3640

Athens Green Market

When: Year-round

Time: Saturday, 9 am-1 pm

Where: Athens Big City Bread Patio

Contact: Carol John at 706-546-4396

Cleveland Farmers' Market

When: Late May thru October

Where: Cleveland Natural Health Center on Hwy 129

Contact: Johnna Tuttle at 706-348-6709

Cotton Mill Farmers' Market

When: April 26th thru November

Time: Saturday, 8 am-12 noon

Where: Carrolton Bradley St. across from City Hall

Contact: Wendy Crager at 770-537-3720

Covington "Square Market"

When: Friday April 25th thru early October

Where: Covington 1169 Washington St. (just off the Square)

Contact: 770-784-1718

Dogwood Farmers' Market

When: Spring thru late September

Time: Saturday, 8 am-1 pm

Where: Tallapoosa Robertson Ave. between Vets

Memorial and Tallapoosa

Primary School

Contact: Ken Mugg at 770-574-9688

Glover Family Organic Farm

When: April 22

Time: Call for times

Where: Douglasville 3260 Hwy. 166

Contact: Skip Glover 770-920-5358

Morningside Farmers' Market

When: April 12th thru Christmas

Time: Saturday, 8-11:30 am

Where: Atlanta 1397 N. Highland Ave NE

Contact: Nicholas Donck at 770-784-6571

Simply Home Grown Farmers' Market

When: June 7 thru fall

Time: Friday 4 pm til dusk and Saturday 9 am-12 noon

Where: Rabun Gap (Rabun County) Hambidge Center Gallery, Hwy 441 at

Kelly's Creek Rd.

Contact: 706-740-5485

Spruill Gallery Farmers' Market

When: April 16th thru August

Where: Atlanta 4681 Ashford Dunwoody Rd.

Contact: Spruill Gallery at 770-394-4019
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Author:Howell, Patricia Kyritsi
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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