Program promotes Georgia food crops


Georgia is known for is its high-quality agricultural products. But it never hurts to be reminded of this.

It’s an often overlooked contributor to our state’s economy. The University of Georgia Extension Service points out that agriculture contributes more than $65 billion to Georgia’s $786.5 billion total economy, with one out of every seven Georgians working in agriculture, forestry or a related field. More than 10 million acres in Georgia are devoted to farming, and in 2007 there were nearly 48,000 farms in the state.

As a state, we produce more broiler chickens, peanuts, pecans, rye, watermelons and spring onions than any others state, and we rank No. 2 in cotton, fresh market cucumbers and snap beans. Georgia ranks third nationally in cantaloupe and fresh market sweet corn.

Values of food production in 2008, according to the Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development at the University of Georgia, were $4.4 billion from broilers, $572 million from eggs, $356 million from beef cattle and $243 million from dairy, along with crops including peanuts, $401 million; watermelon, $139 million; bell peppers, $129 million; onions, $126 million; sweet corn, $83 million; tomatoes, $63.8 million; cucumbers, $52.5 million; greens, $48.7 million; cabbage, $37.6 million; snap beans, $35.2 million, and cantaloupes, $29 million. Among the onions, of course, are the famous Vidalias, grown exclusively in Georgia and appreciated for their sweetness and taste.

So, what do all those numbers mean? Simple. Agriculture is big business in our state and anything that keeps that in mind is beneficial.

On Wednesday, the Georgia Restaurant Association and Georgia Department of Agriculture announced that they were working to do just that with a partnership that aims to promote the good food that comes from Georgia — the Georgia Grown Restaurant Program for restaurants and other food service facilities.

“Georgia’s restaurants are increasingly planning their menus around locally grown foods, so it made sense for GRA to support this outstanding program,” restaurant association Executive Director Karen Bremer said. “We are proud to support Georgia Grown as an economic development program that helps connect restaurants with the state’s top producers. Participating restaurants can ensure that they are offering their customers top-quality food products, while supporting local growers and reducing their carbon footprint.”

With more than 16,000 member dining establishments in the state, the association’s promotion can give Georgia growers a boost — and a pat on the back — by providing consumers with opportunities to support those local producers while dining out.

“The new Georgia Grown Restaurant Program enables us to further promote and foster relationships between Georgia farmers and local chefs. Our state has a great deal of culinary talent — we need to use this talent for showcasing our locally grown produce and goods,” Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black said. “The association also has been an advocate for sustainability, and these issues mirror the Department of Agriculture’s work through Georgia Grown and other programs.”

Two examples they cited of the Georgia Grown Restaurant Program partnership are the Georgia Grown Executive Chef Program, which promotes the Georgia Grown campaign statewide, and the Golden Onion professional cooking competition at the annual Vidalia Onion Festival.

The fact is, Georgia produces high-quality food. It’s something we should appreciate, and capitalize upon.