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POSTED: February 16, 2011 2:31 p.m.

The California Dairy Council is running TV ads talking about their contented cows. On the surface they are talking about humane treatment, but at another level their ad might be the first time some have heard that milk comes from cows. If you think that is hyperbole, read on.
The shrimping industry in the U.S. has been crippled by spiraling fuel costs and cheap imported farm-raised shrimp from Southeast Asia. Fresh, wild Georgia shrimp actually taste like shrimp and not like the Southeast Asia imports. If you believe you are what you eat, then you should understand how those cheap Thailand shrimp are raised.
Thailand shrimp are raised in ponds. Over the ponds are constructed chicken houses. What drops out of the south end of a north-bound chicken is what those shrimp eat. So you have a choice. At least become an informed consumer.
Americans generally have become so far removed from the farm, they really have no idea where their food comes from or what it takes to get it to the store. Two years ago, on Jan. 4, 2009, this comment appeared in the sound-off column of the Kankakee Daily Journal: “To all you hunters who kill animals for food, shame on you; you ought to go to the store and buy the meat that was made there, where no animals were harmed.”
Stunning, I agree. I bet this person has strong opinions on more than a few agricultural and natural resource issues. I bet they vote, too! There is no way this country will ever develop sound economic policies with an electorate that is this flippin’ ignorant voting for candidates who are just as uninformed as they are. Only 3 percent of Americans live on farms today, so many have no clue about how food is produced. The blind leading the blind. ...
But there is hope. Concerns over pesticide use on food products, whether you believe those concerns justified or not, helped fuel the organics movement. The organic products demand in Georgia is rising at a steady 20 percent per year for the last decade. If someone is worried about pesticides on food, remember that many pesticides banned in the U.S. are still widely used on food crops outside the U.S.
Buying local should provide peace of mind about pesticide presence on produce. Poisons and contaminants brought in on products from China, and concerns over the amount of energy it takes to bring food from around the world to your table have fueled the movement toward local foods. People want to know who grows their food.
Food produced nearby does not have to be transported from another continent to reach you, which helps reduce fuel costs. Restaurants have taken to contracting with local food producers and having the farmer come to the restaurant so the diners get to meet the farmers who produced the food they are eating. When systems get so huge that they become impersonal, the human touch becomes a strong marketing tool.
This movement is taking physical shape in North Bryan County in the form of the Whistlestop Market in Pembroke. Pembroke’s Downtown Development Authority is looking for vendors for the market, scheduled to open April 2 and run every Saturday through Nov. 26.
We are looking for local farmers, food producers, food purveyors and arts and crafts producers who want to market their products. The emphasis here is on “local.” As defined by Downtown Development Authority of Pembroke, local is any produce, craft or other item grown or made in Bryan County or any other local county that includes Chatham, Effingham, Liberty, Bulloch, Long, McIntosh, Tattnall, Toombs, Candler and Screven.
All the application forms, rules and instructions are online at http://pembrokega.net/better-hometown.aspx. One can also call Pembroke City Hall at 653-4413 or any board member of the Downtown Development Authority, including chairman Tiffany M. Walraven, vice chairman Jean Bacon, and members Billy Conley, Terry McCoy, Matt Owens and Laverne Scott. Information packets will also be available at Pembroke City Hall, Bryan County Cooperative Extension Office, Farm Bureau and Owens Supply Co. I am helping collect the vendors list, so please call me if you have questions (653-2231).
Even if wildly successful, a farmers market is no threat to Krogers, Publix, IGA or Food Lion, but it could well help keep some of our local food producers in business – and maybe even grow their businesses. It will, of course, help bring consumers to Pembroke’s existing businesses – and all that will do is help stabilize the local economy, which we all want.
It also gives local residents, adults and children alike, a chance to sample the wide variety of agricultural products grown locally, helps keep local arts and crafts alive, and if they are not careful, learn something about where their food comes from and meet the folk who help make their dinner possible.
It is not just a farmers market. It could be a social networking site. It will be an outdoor classroom with courses limited only by your curiosity and powers of observation. It is another way to make that human connection in a world moving entirely too fast. Yes, it is one of those community building activities you would expect from the Pembroke Downtown Development Authority.
So growers and artisans, sign up! For the rest of us, do not miss the chance to show your children where food comes from. A lot of the things we grew up with and take for granted are unknown to kids today. This was brought home to me earlier this month when I made a comment to one of our high school 4-H children that Sean Connery would be a good actor for a certain role: “Who is Sean Connery?” “Oh, you know, the original James Bond.” “Who is James Bond?”
Hmmm. “Do you know where hamburgers come from?” “Yeah, sure. McDonalds!”

Gardner is the extension agent for Bryan County. He can be reached at dgardner@uga.edu.

 

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