Farmers and store owners from around the area share their thoughts on what the local food scene is like and why eating locally is important.
By CHRIS RAIMONDI
ATLANTA — In the midst of the organic and local food industry’s exponential growth, a handful of metro Atlanta farmers and business owners remain humble and true.
From Fat Land Farm in Roswell, to Wilbur and Rudy’s Farmtable in Milton, local food supporters in Georgia are on a mission to offer the highest quality products while supporting a community.
“The word organic is a buzz word these days,” said Gary Walker, owner of Fat Land Farm in Roswell, Georgia. “Everybody is jumping on it. A lot of people are jumping on it because of the potential for money. However, I don’t know how well ethically they are doing. We grow everything here.”
Walker moved to Roswell two years ago and began to utilize the three acres of land his home rests on for farming. He and his wife Barrett decided to start a community-supported agriculture program for their farm.
“Our main model is community-supported agriculture because it’s multi-faceted,” Walker said. “It’s important that we build community along with growing food. Our way of doing that is coming into relationship with people. I know who I am growing for.”
What is CSA?
Community supported agriculture, or CSA, is pretty much what it sounds like. The Walkers plant, maintain and harvest all of their crops and allow CSA shareholders to come to their home and select organically grown foods from their certified naturally-grown land. Certified naturally-grown is a farm-assurance organization that certifies organic producers who sell privately. Of the two seasons offered at Fat Land, shareholders spend $40 per week and are allotted eight to 10 items per week. Each season is roughly 15 weeks long.
Perhaps Walker’s proudest feature of his farm is the fact that Fat Land Farm does not use any pesticides while growing its non-genetically modified organism products.
“I have extremely high standards when it comes to the food I put in my body and my family’s body,” Walker said. “We have two kids. What I won’t eat, I don’t want anyone else to eat.”
Among the products offered at Fat Land Farm are a range of different vegetables, honey and eggs. At one point, the Walkers housed up to 18 bee hives to produce their own honey. Additionally, they raise their own free-range chickens that are fed the organic food grown on the farm. In addition to the CSA program, Fat Land Farm supplies Roswell restaurant Peach and the Porkchop with heirloom tomatoes.
A new take on grocery
For those seeking organic and locally-grown food in a grocery atmosphere, Ryan Bowersox and his wife Beth, owners of Wilbur and Rudy’s Farmtable in Milton, offer farm-fresh products with the same motives of a CSA farm driving their business.
Wilbur and Rudy’s Farmtable, according to Ryan Bowersox, is a retail organic farmer’s market and coffee shop. Located in what used to be Buice’s General Store which opened in the 1930s at the corner of Birmingham Highway and Hickory Flat Road in Milton, Georgia. Wilbur and Rudy’s Farmtable offers local organic food, coffee, soaps, decorations and more.
“The products that we bring in pretty much have to be either local or organic,” Bowersox said. “If they are both, then that’s wonderful. I would say probably 70 percent of all of the products in the store are made in Georgia.”
The grocery market and coffee shop was opened in May 2015 with the goal of offering healthy food while educating the customers who entered.
“I’m a big advocate [of] people educating themselves,” Bowersox said. “You might think that normal food you’re getting from the grocery story is fine. That’s cool. But to me, you should look to eat as healthy as possible.”
Named after his two sons, Wilbur and Rudy’s Farmtable strives to shelve products from local farmers who grow naturally.
“If you know a farmer who is a great farmer and they don’t use pesticides and they use non-GMO products, you’re going to trust them, you know you are getting a great product, the money is being spent locally, you’re supporting him and you’re healthy food. Everybody wins,” Bowersox said.
Let’s get personal
One of Bowersox’s favorite aspects to his store is his coffee shop. Wilbur and Rudy’s does not use artificial sweeteners and provides hand-brewed, organic coffee served in compostable cups. The coffee shop, he believes, is what helps complete his store.
“People like the personal side of doing business,” Bowersox said. “I think as our society has gotten more complex and busy, people are now longing for simplicity. I think that old-time way of doing things, that 1950s way of, you walk in and you already have someone’s coffee ready for them–that level of interaction is what people want.”
A common thread among local food enthusiasts’ desire to support naturally grown food is sustainability.
“First of all, you’re supporting local farmers and the people actually growing it,” Jay Gleaton said, maker of Jay’s Hot Stuff hot sauce. “Second, environmental reasons; the food doesn’t have to come as far to get to you, so the carbon footprint is a little less. Usually the quality is better.”
Jay’s Hot Stuff
Gleaton has been making hot sauce for nearly 15 years, and like Bowersox and Walker, he is immersed in the supportive local food community.
“It tastes better,” Gleaton said of local food. “My thing is, go plant your own tomato bush. You’ll find out the difference soon enough.”
Despite using nonlocal ingredients in his sauces, eating locally remains important to Gleaton.
“Most of my ingredients are not very local,” he said. “They are seasonal. Peppers and mangos especially are seasonal and are not a typical United States food. But, I used Vidalia onions, Georgia or Tennessee honey, pecan oil. So as much as I can, I’ll buy local.”
Gleaton offers a range of nonconventional hot sauces which can be found via his Facebook page, Jay’s Hot Stuff. Blueberry plantain, strawberry pineapple and papaya hot sauce are among Gleaton’s many selections, but perhaps his greatest creation is his mango habanero hot sauce.
“I started playing around with recipes and eventually when I landed on the mango smoked habaneros and that combination, everybody who tasted it loved it and I said, ‘well this is something, might as well try and making bigger batches,’ ” he said.
It takes Gleaton about five hours to make a full batch of his mango habanero hot sauce which includes 12 pounds of smoked habaneros. His bottling service comprises a pitcher and a funnel and he distributes to friends and family for no cost.
“I just carry it around,” Gleaton said. “If anyone wants it, they can call me or there’s a couple places where I can leave it and people can come pick it up. I have friends who work at restaurants and they will just keep it behind the bar and call me when their case is empty.”
Jay’s Hot Stuff is not an official business and remains a hobby for Gleaton, but he hopes one day to expand his passion to a full-time occupation.
Organic doesn’t mean organic
The local food industry is growing every day, but building relationships with who grows and delivers the products remains at the forefront of most farmers and store owners minds. Last week WSB TV investigated Kim Shelley and his Farmer’s Market Produce store which claimed he offered organic and naturally grown food.
Channel 2 followed Shelley and revealed he was buying his products from the Atlanta State Farmer’s Market, which is not certified organic and does not serve non genetically modified organism products.
Stories like Shelley’s are the reason Fat Land Farm favors community supported agriculture.
“I like the idea of families coming and picking up every week and you build a relationship through conversations,” Walker said. “They get to know my family, I get to know their family. I love to hear their feedback.”
“The more you can do locally, it’s just responsible,” Bowersox said. “In so many different ways, environmentally, economically, socially. That’s why we try to support it as much as possible.”
Where to buy local
The Local Exchange on the square in downtown Marietta offers a wide range of local goods. Marion Savec, owner of the local exchange, opened her store because of her passion for local foods and sustainability.
“I think there’s a lot to be said for having things that are made in smaller batches and you know that it’s a better quality,” Savec said of local foods. “There’s less transportation time so there are less adverse effects on the environment.”
As for Brian Purcell, owner of Three Taverns Brewery, he enjoys being part of the local food scene because of the community and history he has with the Atlanta area. “It’s just my home,” Purcell said. “I live here in Decatur. I love Decatur and I couldn’t imagine building a brewery anywhere else.”