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Georgia, Garden City officials meet to discuss future of Savannah State Farmers Market

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While many aspects of the agriculture industry have evolved during the past 50 or 60 years, one thing has remained the same, a state official said Friday.

Farmers markets in Georgia today continue to operate the way they did back in the 1950s, Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black said, even as the rest of the industry has modernized. Take, for example, the state-run Savannah State Farmers Market on U.S. 80 in Garden City. Since it was built in 1953, that market has always been set up to allow farmers to sell produce from the bed of their pickup trucks to their neighbors over the course of a weekend.

But the amount of produce grown or raised by an individual farmer has changed in the ensuing decades, and what used to fill the bed of a pickup now fills a tractor trailer. Black pointed out that because of this fundamental change in the industry, there were no local farmers selling produce at the Garden City market Friday as he met with local leadership there.

“Agriculture is different than when our markets were built,” Black said. “The business is completely changed. How do we make ‘em vibrant? How do we make ‘em relevant? And how do we serve people? You’ve got my commitment. Whatever we do in the future, we do together.”

Among those at the talk Friday with Black, some wanted to see the Garden City farmers market find the success of other local markets such as the Forsyth Park Farmers Market and the market on Wilmington Island. Others wanted organic produce at prices that rival grocery stores. Garden City officials are willing to help with the work, said City Manager Ron Feldner, whether it be marketing to increase exposure or hosting events that draw a crowd.

Black said there is no magic solution to revitalize the state farmers market in Chatham County, but Georgia Rep. Carl Gilliard, D-Garden City, said he has formed a think tank to pursue the issue further.

“We’re going to make sure this is not just a visit,” Gilliard said. “We’re going to work with our agriculture commissioner, with Georgia Grown, but we need the buy-in from the community. The biggest thing right now is how do we empower people? We want to get everyone involved.”

GET INVOLVED

Garden City Mayor Don Bethune said the city is conducting a survey on housing, transportation and preferred operation of the Savannah State Farmers Market. To register your thoughts, go to www.gardencity-ga.gov, and click “Garden City Community Survey.”