The food justice movement has been gaining momentum in Georgia, and the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) is becoming active in the movement though several projects within its Real Communities Initiative. The Forsyth Farmers' Market in Savannah is working with GCDD through the Real Communities Initiative to unite the whole community, including those with developmental disabilities, through the farmers' market and access to local, healthy foods. The Forsyth Farmers' Market brings together everyone in the community from local restaurant owners and farmers to customers. The following are perspectives from two people involved in the Forsyth Farmers' Market and who are focused on using local, healthy food to bring together communities and try to eliminate the barriers to accessible food.
Using Food to Rebuild Communities
By Kristin Russell
Ever since I left my family farm, I've been alarmed at the distance, both physically and psychologically, between people and the food we consume. That was my driving force over a decade ago to open a coffee shop and cafe that attempted to source products responsibly. I wanted to encourage people to be more conscious of what they were purchasing.
As the years roll by, I've learned that the real magic for most people isn't as much about the source of the food, as it is about the relationships they forge with me, my staff and other customers. Food just opened the door to thinking differently about each other. Based on this, I consciously try to create an atmosphere where sharing a food experience may transcend all sorts of social barriers.
I've become engaged in more endeavors to support a stronger local food economy, such as the Forsyth Farmers' Market in Savannah, and I try to constantly keep this lesson in mind. Nothing forms our consumption patterns more than personal relationships and most of us don't have enough or deep enough personal relationships in our lives. Supporting a local food scene is about more than local economy, health or the environment, which are all important.
Since food is something everyone needs, spends time thinking about and should have easy access to, it can be a powerful tool to rebuild communities that make better sense for everyone.
Farmers' markets in particular, are a great place to start rewiring our communities using some of our most basic means of commerce and communication. These personal transactions are a pleasant way for people to start thinking differently about their food choices. The growth of farmers' markets and businesses that use local food sources present great opportunities for us to alleviate disparities in access to local, healthy food and help everyone feel closer to what they are eating. If we start to appreciate and even expect to develop a relationship with the people who grow our food, then perhaps we can start building more and deeper relationships with everyone around us.
About Kristin Russell:
Kristin Russell owns the Sentient Bean coffee shop and cafe in Savannah, GA. She grew up on a farm in Kansas and studied environmental policy in college in Minnesota. Russell is a founder of the Forsyth Farmers' Market, involved in the Real Communities project and sits on the Savannah Chatham Food Policy Council.
Understanding the Southeastern African American Farmers Organic Network Development in the South
By Cynthia Hayes
I have spent the last six years working with some of the most astounding, gracious and faith-filled people I have ever known: our farmers. The Southeastern African American Farmers Organic Network (SAAFON) started as a small gathering of family farmers who believed they could change the quality of food they grew for their communities.
On July 6, 2006 farmers representing 15 African American farms from Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama gathered in Savannah, GA for an intensive three-day organic certification workshop. The workshop was a collaborative effort spearheaded by myself and Dr. Owusu Bandele, since we both shared a burning passion to increase the number of certified organic African American farmers in
Organic production is the fastest growing segment of the agriculture sector due to large consumer demand, health and environmental concerns and its economic potential. However, there have been several reasons African Americans are not certified organic farmers. Many agricultural professionals in the South don't advocate organic production, and for some farmers the daunting and lengthy 19-page application process was a deterrent.
The first organic training sessions were a component of a regional project involving the Southern Food System Educational Consortium (SOFSEC), which included a number of historically black 1890 Land Grant Universities, and community-based organizations. The project was initially funded by a grant obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture, the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems (IFAFS) program, and led in the organic component by the Southern University.
The farmers requested an organization that would identify and celebrate their success, and so SAAFON was formed soon after the second training to help address their needs and concerns. With co-ops membership, SAAFON is now 121 farmers strong in six states and the US Virgin Islands. SAAFON has come a long way since the beginning and is also proudly one of the founders of the Forsyth Farmers' Market in Savannah and often has a booth at the market selling products by SAAFON farmers.
Being a part of the network makes the farmers involved in this project feel they have already taken a giant historic step in improving the economic and environmental sustainability of their farms, while increasing the chance of preserving a vanishing yet important resource ... our land.
About Cynthia Hayes
Cynthia Hayes has worked as a program development consultant for rural community-based organizations for over 30 years. She has worked throughout the US, Caribbean and Central and South America. She is the founder of the Southeastern African American Farmers Organic Network, a network of farmers dedicated to using sustainable growing practices, located in Savannah, GA. For more information on SAAFON, visit www.saafon.org/.