Whether she’s gathering Garnet sweet potatoes, kale or Pink Beauty radishes to take to a local farmers market, Loretta Adderson, co-owner of Adderson’s Fresh Produce in Keysville, Georgia, is hoping to accomplish more than make a sale. She’s looking to make a change.

A nutritionist by trade, Adderson said, “I’m very concerned with the health of individuals, not just my family but in the community. And that’s one of my goals, to provide, especially the deep, green vegetables that we don’t consume enough of.”

She is in good company.

In 2009, the Georgia Fresh for Less Program was initiated by the nonprofit Wholesome Wave Georgia. The program is a community coalition between farmers and farmers markets. Via the program, individuals who receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits are able to purchase fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Most markets are open at least once a week. SNAP benefits are matched dollar for dollar, allowing customers the opportunity to take home a bounty of fresh produce.

Helping hands everywhere

Although there’s a need for access to fresh food throughout the state, some areas are more deficient than others.

“We live in a food desert,” said Michelle Reid, co-owner of Morning Glory Farms in Cedartown, Georgia.

Morning Glory Farms is a long-time vendor at the Rockmart Farmers Market in Cedartown where Reid credited “out-of-the-box” thinking to yielding good sales at the market.

“We take mostly green plants. A lot of people bring theirs red, so we take ours green, like green tomatoes. We sell the heck out of those. Fresh peaches always go well,” she said. “We have peas. They’re one of my favorites, and they’re hard to find locally. Garlic, that’s a big thing for us, too.”

Laurie and John Ritchie of J & L Farm & Stables

The high percentage of people nutritionally at risk in Polk County further fueled Reid’s desire to be a catalyst to address the problem in her community.

“It weighs on my heart to see kids who can’t help where they are economically and [who are in need of] food,” she said. “It made me become a very loud voice for that (Georgia Fresh for Less) program.”

“When you have an overabundance of things, I think you should share,” Reid said.

Laurie Ritchie, co-owner of J & L Farm & Stables in Hephzibah, Georgia, echoed Reid’s sentiment.

“I feel like we’re being good stewards of our land by growing extra and sharing what we grow,” Ritchie said.

“When the market first started (Veggie Park Farmers Market in Augusta, Georgia), it was a little slow; there weren’t many families coming,” she said. “We now have the same families come through, and their children’s eyes literally light up when they see some of the fruits and vegetables available from all of the individual farmers.”

Produce from Watsonia Organic

Sowing and reaping

While investing in the lives of others, Ritchie has reaped the benefit of camaraderie with her peers and growth of her business.

“So when we first started out, the only thing that we had was yellow squash and zucchini. We’ve added green beans, and this year we were successful at growing non-GMO corn, and that has been a huge success,” she said.

“This was our fourth year trying the corn. We finally got our soil rich enough, because the crop is a heavy feeder, and if it doesn’t have the nutrients, it just won’t produce,” she explained.

Customers at the Veggie Park can usually look to the Ritchies for blueberries, but last year’s frost resulted in a lost crop.

“What we are currently selling is muscadines, and we grow organic peanuts,” Ritchie added.

Organic sweet potatoes fresh from Adderson’s Fresh Produce

Helping some of the 1.7 million who receive SNAP benefits in Georgia by participating in Georgia Fresh for Less is a win-win, the farmers noted.

“Actually, it’s a triple win,” Reid said. “It’s a win for the market. It’s a win for the farmers and it’s a win for the people using the program.”

Caitlin Still, development and communications coordinator for Wholesome Wave Georgia, agreed: “We’re helping those small businesses grow their business and invest those dollars back into their community.”

“Those dollars stay right here in our community, not leaving the state,” said Kim Hines, executive director of Augusta Locally Grown, which oversees the Veggie Park Farmers Market.

“2017 has been our best year for the business,” Ritchie said.

“This is the first year that [we] have done a vendor survey, and we found that vendors have seen their sales increase at least 20 percent, being a partner market or being a Georgia Fresh for Less vendor,” Still said.

The best of fresh

The locally grown food at the Veggie Park Farmers Market in Augusta offers pesticide- and herbicide-free food.

“Everything is grown organically or certified naturally grown,” Hines said.

A shopper checks out Adderson’s Fresh Produce selection at the Augusta Locally Grown Farmers Market.

It’s a small, but clean market,” she added. “This market represents coming together – our local food system and customers.”

As sharing food is synonymous with bringing people together, Reid is delighted when she can produce fresh farm goods that families can savor.

“When you can take collard greens fresh from the field, wash and cook them, there’s nothing like it,” she said.

More seeds to sow

Even with the program’s positive impact, the partners recognize there is more work to do.

“We are all over the state in 35 cities including rural and metro areas, but we don’t have a ton of partners in northwest and south Georgia,” Still said. “We recognize the food insecurity is a real issue in those parts of the state. We work really hard to try and find those new partners every year.”

Wholesome Wave’s director of programs finds areas of the state that they are not currently working in and starts a dialogue to develop partnerships with vendors or farmers market managers in those communities.

Produce from Watsonia Organics

“Our first step is to get them SNAP authorized if they are not. And once they’ve been doing that for a while, they can apply to become a partner with Georgia Fresh for Less. Applications are reviewed every fall to bring on qualifying applicants the following year,” Still explained.

Because of the Georgia Fresh for Less program, 78 percent of its customers are able to increase their produce intake.

The people behind those percentages, Still noted, can reap the benefits of food assistance programs in a way that makes each partner’s role fulfilling.

“The families that I meet at the produce market are just eternally grateful to have the opportunity to purchase fresh foods,” Still said. “I especially see a lot of moms out there with their kids, and they’re just so happy that they can feed their kids healthy foods, and they’re not limited by their food stamp budget.

“It’s the hope that you’re changing the next generation to want those things fresh on the table from the farm,” Ritchie said.