Organic Agriculture Leaders Honored at 17th Annual Georgia Organics Conference

Georgia’s organic agriculture community honored two of the state’s foremost leaders at the 17th annual Georgia Organics conference this weekend, which brought over 1,000 attendees to Jekyll Island to celebrate the coast and the myriad ways organic growers are essential to restoring natural resources in Georgia and beyond.

The Georgia Organics Land Steward Award was presented to farmer Celia Barss of Woodland Gardens in Athens, Ga., whose skill as a grower is matched by her business savvy and dedication to supporting the state’s organic agriculture community.

“This year’s honoree is a true leader and teacher today, not because she has sought those roles, but because she knows the direction to go and has so much knowledge to share,” said Daniel Parson of the farm at Oxford College-Emory University, who presented the award. “And as a mentor she is legendary because of her incredible track record of mentees who are still farming.”

The Land Steward Award honors an individual who has contributed greatly to the organic movement in Georgia both on the farm through environmentally friendly production, and off the farm through leadership, education, and outreach.

Savannah’s Teri Schell received the Barbara Petit Pollinator Award, which honors an individual or organization for outstanding community leadership in Georgia’s sustainable farming and food movement. As a founding member of the Forsyth Farmers’ Market, Schell has been on the ground floor of the Savannah’s good food community, and as co-chair of the recently formedSavannah Chatham Food Policy Council, her passion and knowledge continue to grow that movement.

“She quietly and doggedly keeps all these pieces moving because of her passion for equality and lucky for folks in this room she uses her love of food as the framework for change,” said award presenter Kristin Russell, owner of popular Savannah cafe The Sentient Bean.

The Barbara Petit Pollinator Award’s namesake is a committed leader, culinary professional, and organizer who was president of Georgia Organics from 2003-2009, and the award acknowledges exceptional success in advancing Georgia Organics’ mission by spreading (pollinating) the movement throughout community life, such as the food industry, faith communities, public agencies, schools, and institutions.

Georgia Organics also celebrated the following milestones:

The Georgia Organics farmer-to-farmer mentoring program: At 10 years old, our mentoring program is one of the oldest in the country. We pair beginning farmers and ranchers and producers transitioning to organic production systems with experienced farmer mentors and take them from the beginning stages of production to the successful management of a farm business. By strengthening small farmers and local markets, our mentoring program is a direct investment in the state’s rural communities and the future of agriculture in Georgia.

Georgia Organics 5 Million Meal Campaign: This initiative to get 5 million school meals featuring a local produce item on the menu during the 2012-2013 school year enlisted 40 districts that committed to procure locally. Our initial aim was 5 million meals, but when the University of Georgia compiled and evaluated the results of the campaign, they revealed that we should have tripled our goal – 14 million meals featuring a local food item were served. The value of those purchases for Georgia farmers: $2.1 million!

Habersham County Farm to School pilot: To date, 10 sustainable farmers within 40 miles of the county are directly participating in food procurement with the school district, and we hope this pilot will serve as a model for rural districts throughout the state.

The My Market Club: How do we encourage people to shop and eat more local, organic food? One way is to get them to farmers markets, which is why we started the My Market Club, a consumer rewards program that attracted 5,000 first-time farmers market shoppers and generated $21,000 in direct sales for farmers.

The Good Food Guide: Another way we can connect people to organic foods and farms is to tell folks where to find them. The Good Food Guide debuted at the conference, and reflects the growth of the good food movement across the state. Between 2011 and 2014, listings of businesses increased from 40 to 73, farmers markets increased from 96 to 166, restaurants increased from 75 to 108, and farms from 174 to 300.