Just listening to Kim Hines tell stories about the farmers and food that make up the Augusta Locally Grown community is enough to inspire you to put down the wilted kale in your grocery cart and head straight for the farmer’s market.

As Augusta Locally Grown’s executive director, Hines works tirelessly to support the non-profit organization’s mission to growing the local food community throughout the CSRA. That translates into providing resources and programs for the Augusta community to eat, cook and grow fresh, local foods, as well as a creating a platform for the farmers who work just as tirelessly to provide much of the local food supply. υ

What is local food? For produce and goods sold through Augusta Locally Grown’s farmers markets, it means food that has been grown within 100 miles of Augusta. To help Augusta residents make a conscious choice to support local farmers, Augusta Locally Grown coordinates several farmers’ markets in the area, including a year-round online farmers market. For a $25 annual membership fee, customers have weekly access to a virtual marketplace of locally grown, in-season produce, meats and dairy, as well as locally produced goods like honey, bread and artisan soaps. When the online marketplace opens on Fridays at 12 p.m., customers can log in to their account and see exactly which grower is selling what produce, add items to their cart and check out (by Sunday), and then pick up their selection the following Tuesday at one of two pick-up locations—one in downtown Augusta, the other in Evans. 

Buying local is so important because everyone should know where their food comes from, how it’s grown and what’s added, if anything…

But just knowing that this modern day farmer’s market exists isn’t always enough to get people to buy in. Hines is the first to acknowledge that food is deeply personal and that it may take people time to embrace the local food movement. It can often take one of those “aha” moments for something to click, whether it’s for health-related or environmental reasons, or purely for the joy of food.

For teacher-turned-farmer Laurie Ritchie, co-owner of J and L Farm and Stables who sells farm-fresh eggs and Tennessee Red Valencia peanuts through Augusta Locally Grown, it was both diet and environmental reasons that spurred her into action. About six years ago, when her husband John’s parents were diagnosed with dementia, Laurie started doing some research on the subject. One of the things she kept reading about was how chemicals and pesticides were possibly contributing to the disease. It was a wake up call. Like many people, she wasn’t aware of the harmful, yet all-too-common farming practices that allow chemicals to seep into our food supply. 

When her parents-in-law moved in with them and she was unable to return to work, Laurie and John began a new chapter in their lives and dedicated themselves to growing food that was clean, nutritious and “real.”  As a Certified Naturally Grown farm, that means no chemicals, pesticides or herbicides. Their peanuts sell out as fast as they put them on the market and their antibiotic-, hormone- and cage-free eggs are perennial bestsellers. Laurie adds, “Buying local is so important because everyone should know where their food comes from, how it’s grown and what’s added, if anything. Children should know what tomatoes growing on a vine look like. “

…my daughter will eat all the sugar snap peas on the way home from the market before I have a chance to cook them. That never happens on the way home from the grocery store.

eat local 2

For long-time Augusta Locally Grown customer Kimberly Beavers, a registered dietitian and cohost ofEating Well With Kim on Channel 12, it starts with taste. And tasting is believing. “I was hooked the first time I purchased Augusta Locally Grown produce—it was delicious and tender.” And because fresh tastes better, there is a greater likelihood that kids
(and adults) will eat fresh produce. “Many times, my daughter will eat all the sugar snap peas on the way home from the market before I have the chance to cook them. That never happens on the way home from the grocery store.”

From a nutrition standpoint, because local foods are allowed to fully ripen in the field and travel a shorter distance to reach your table, they’re more nutrient dense to begin with and lose less nutrients along the way. For self-proclaimed foodies like Beavers, it can also be an opportunity to try new fruits and vegetables, and greater produce variety equals greater nutrient variety. For example, you’re not likely to find Canary melons, pinkeye purple hull peas or black radishes at your supermarket, nor are you likely to meet the farmer and have the opportunity to ask their advice on how to prepare them. (For more mealtime inspiration, “like” Augusta Locally Grown’s Facebook page. Tara Roberts, Augusta Locally Grown’s downtown market manager and avid gourmet home cook, posts a weekly recipe starring in-season produce.)

Beyond health, diet, nutrition and environment, there are also economic factors to consider when supporting
the development of a local food community. When you
keep food dollars in the local economy, it adds up. When you buy from a local farmer, that farmer is getting the majority of that money—farmers keep 90 percent of all sales made through Augusta Locally Grown’s online market—and they in turn buy
supplies from local sources to support their business. Conversely, when you
buy from a grocery store, you’re splitting the costs with the grocer and transportation and holding industries, so that money doesn’t stay within the local community. Financially supporting farmers who produce high-quality food perpetuates their desire (and that of future farmers) to continue producing delicious, sustainable foods.

If we want this vibrant food culture, we have to pay for it.

This is something that Kim Hines cannot stress enough as part of Augusta Locally Grown’s mission and future. “We are not going to attract more local agriculture here until we show that our dollars are being spent in that category. We have to be more committed as a community and we have to vote with our dollars. If we want people to invest in land and time, we have to show them that we’re going to support them financially. If we want this vibrant food culture, we have to pay for it.”

Buying locally grown food is often more expensive (though not always) simply because of economies of scale—when farmers grow cleanly, they are likely to lose a higher percentage of food to pests—but because it has travelled such a short distance to reach you, it’ll be fresher and last much longer.

Besides being willing to pay for locally grown foods and wanting to make healthier eating choices, it takes a commitment to make that shift in your lifestyle. That commitment can be small; knowing that sweet potatoes and kale happen to grow extremely well in our area and buying those through Augusta Locally Grown or another local source (or even growing your own!) is a great first step. However it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach—you shouldn’t feel guilty about buying a package of blueberries at the grocery store, but once you’ve tasted locally grown, in-season Georgia-South Carolina berries—or even picked your own—you may change your mind. 

eat local 3

…Augusta Locally Grown has a robust events schedule and an ever-growing list of initiatives that are helping residents make the most of their farmers’ market haul…

To further nurture the local food community, Augusta Locally Grown has a robust events schedule and an ever-growing list of initiatives that are helping residents make the most of their farmers’ market haul, connecting them with fellow advocates and farmers, and inspiring them to grow their own food. Take the kids on a farm tour so they learn what tomatoes on the vine look like (treats are usually provided!), learn to make muscadine wine or grow your own mushrooms or try your hand at making spa-grade products on a lavender farm (see “Good Taste” page 44). 

Augusta Locally Grown initiatives like G.R.O.W. Harrisburg saw the community band together to install 100 raised beds for Harrisburg residents, providing them with a backyard garden and the tools to grow their own food, and there are plans for another 100 raised beds (see sidebar). To keep informed about upcoming events, volunteer opportunities and Augusta Locally Grown news, sign up for the newsletter by creating an account: https://augusta.locallygrown.net/user/signin.

Challenge yourself to put down the wilted kale in your grocery cart, forget your shopping list and log in to Augusta Locally Grown to see what fresh, locally grown foods are in season this week. Let that dictate what you prepare for dinner. Remember, tasting is believing. 

Where else can you shop for local foods?

Earth Fare

Stock up on some of the best local, organic produce around from Adderson’s Fresh Produce out of Hephzibah, Ga. Earth Fare currently stocks winter crops like kale, turnip greens, turnip roots and mustard greens and anticipates carrying zucchini, yellow squash, Easter egg radishes and green onions come summer. When it’s blueberry season, don’t miss out on sweet, hand-harvested organic Georgia blueberries from Byne Blueberry Farm, a multi-generation family-owned farm located in Waynesboro. Out of season? Pick up a bottle of their rich blueberry syrup to pour over pancakes or blueberry honey, both of which are carried year-round.

Whole Foods

Part of Whole Foods’ mission is to create win-win relationships with local producers in order to offer shoppers the best local products, which by Whole Foods’ definition are products that are grown, manufactured or crafted within 150 miles of the store. Seek out natural milk from Southern Swiss Dairy and organically grown blueberries and honey from Byne Blueberry Farm, both of which hail from Waynesboro. Byne Blueberry Farm is also a recipient of the Whole Foods Market’s Local Producer Loan program, which loans funds to small, local, independent producers to help them expand their operations. Other local beneficiaries include White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Ga., (who provide grass-fed beef, pastured chicken and turkeys, and eggs) and High Road Creamery, a producer of artisan ice creams from Marietta, Ga.

This article appears in the January 2016 issue of Augusta Magazine.