Georgia Organics Blog

A Recipe for Change: Julia Gaskin on Cover Cropping for Vegetable Production

by Michael Wall

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Cover crops are essential to growing organically and maintaining fertile soil, and factors like species selection and timely planting are important for vegetables to thrive.

Few researchers know as much about soil sciences and cover crops as UGA’s Julia Gaskin. She is an expert in soil quality and sustainable agriculture and serves as the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Model State Co-Coordinator for Georgia. She works to identify the needs for sustainable agriculture in the Georgia and develop the programming to serve those needs.

Gaskin will be presenting a workshop in Using Cover Crops in Vegetable Production
 at the 18th Annual Georgia Organics Conference, Recipe for Change: Better Farms, Better Flavors, which will be held on Feb. 20-21, 2015, at the Classic Center in Athens, Ga. We spoke with Julia about the increasing popularity of cover crops and their use for increasing soil health.

In a nutshell, what does cover cropping mean? Cover cropping is growing a crop for its ecologically benefits rather than cash.  The ecological benefits are things like increasing soil health, decreasing erosion, or providing habitat for beneficial insects or pollinators. Continue reading →


27 Dec 14

A Recipe for Change: Jan Kovak on Sustaining Your Farmers Market

by Michael Wall

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Farmers markets are a viable resource for communities to support their local growers while incorporating more fresh and organically grown produce into their diets. As the presence of farmers markets in Georgia grows, its important for producers to know not only how to maintain their market but how to make it thrive.

Jan Kozak is the market manager of the Athens Farmers Market. He has a great deal of experience in what it takes to run a sustainable farmers market, including the business aspects of supply and demand as well as some of the more creative techniques to keep a market flourishing. Kozak, along with Katie Cash Hayes of Community Farmers Markets, and Jerry NeSmith, treasurer of the Athens Farmers Market, will participate in an Educational Session on Sustaining Farmers Markets at the 18th Annual Georgia Organics Conference, Recipe for Change: Better Farms, Better Flavors, which will be held on Feb. 20-21, 2015, at the Classic Center in Athens, Ga. We talked to Jan about the growth of farmers markets in Georgia and the most important part of a farmers market’s success: community.

How would you define a successful farmers market?
Lots of sustainably-minded producers and consumers from all income strata coming together, directly, with no parties in between, in symbiotic, cohesive fashion. This means having good policies regarding where vendors are from, what can and can’t be sold, particularly relating to sustainability, and being strictly producer-only. A successful market balances supply and demand well, has effective food accessibility programs, puts forth good social media and marketing, is generous with its space and resources, and adds layers that make the market more vibrant–chef’s demos, educational activities, live music, non-profit booths, contests, off-site events, etc. On the surface markets look so simple. And that’s part of the beauty–the simplicity of the concept hiding the complex picture behind the scenes. Continue reading →


23 Dec 14

Sound Ingredient: Pastured Poultry

by Claire Maxwell

Sound Ingredient changes things up a bit this time by taking a break from produce and featuring pasture-raised poultry. We talked to Brandon Chonko, owner and operator of Grassroots Farms in Reidsville, Ga, about how he began raising animals on pasture, the importance of letting animals grow naturally outside, and how partnerships have helped him grow and deliver more efficiently.

We also sat down with Chef Robert Phalen of One Eared Stag in Atlanta’s Inman Park neighborhood to learn more about how the two became connected. He talked about his first encounter with Brandon, the quality of the poultry and other animals Brandon raises, and how he prepares the poultry he receives from Grassroots.

Watch below to get a glimpse at Brandon’s farm and hear our conversations on why pasture-raised animals live better, taste better, and are ultimately better for you.


23 Dec 14

A Recipe For Change: Aaron Hart on Applied Agriponics

by Claire Maxwell

agriponicApplied agriponics is essentially the use of aquaponic and hydroponic systems to grow food without using soil. The field is continuing to expand, but the benefits of growing with water prove to be just as efficient as growing in traditional soil, and many of the same crops can be grown in aquaponic and hydroponic systems.

Aaron Hart is the CEO and Special Projects Manager of Applied Agriponics Solutions, which installs indoor and outdoor gardening systems while educating and consulting on what kind of system to use or improving an existing system to yield more crops. Hart and his company support the idea of sustainable gardening by using up less water and land by using industry-standard materials. Hart will be speaking at the 18th Annual Georgia Organics Conference, Recipe for Change: Better Farms, Better Flavors, which will be held on Feb. 20-21, 2015, at the Classic Center in Athens, Ga. We talked to him about applied agriponics and how it allows for higher crop yields and more sustainable gardens.

What is agriponics and how do hydroponic and aquaponic systems contribute to it?
Agriponics is aquaponics and hydroponics:
Fish + plants + water = aquaponics
Plants + water = hydroponics
Aquaponics + hydroponics + food system = agriponics
Agriponics is a word derived from the combination of ‘agriculture’ and ‘ponics’ (the techniques developed to grow produce without the use of traditional soil). We focus on these agricultural ‘ponics’ practices because growing food with these techniques are the most adaptable, efficient, and some of the most progressive; the main advantage is that water, nutrients, and air are delivered directly to the plant root-zone.

Continue reading →


22 Dec 14

A Recipe for Change: Brennan Washington on Maximizing Profits for Small Spaces

by Michael Wall

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Farming in small spaces is just as significant as growing on large areas of farmland. Reusing as much space as possible and treating their farm (no matter how small) as a profitable business can allow producers to use their land to their benefit for years to come.

Brennan Washington and his wife are the owners of Phoenix Gardens in Lawrenceville. Washington and his wife, Gwendolyn, are highly involved in the good food community, but they’re also experts at utilizing small spaces to maximize income. Though their farm is small, they believe that diversifying farms is the best way to produce a range of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and eggs free of harsh pesticides. Washington will present the following Educational Session at the 18th Annual Georgia Organics Conference, Recipe for Change: Better Farms, Better Flavors, which will be held on Feb. 20-21, 2015, at the Classic Center in Athens, Ga. We spoke to Brennan about his farm business and momentum across the state.

When you think about where Phoenix Garden is today, and when you were just starting out, what, if anything, would you have done differently?
The most important thing I would have done differently would to have begun to treat my farm as a business once I realized it was morphing into a money making venture.  Because both my wife and I were working full time, we treated our farming operation as a hobby far longer than we should have which caused us a few problems as Phoenix Gardens began to grow. Continue reading →


18 Dec 14

A Recipe for Change: Dan Glenn on Grass-fed Beef Genetics

by Michael Wall

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Producing flavorful grass-fed beef depends on the proper breed and genetic makeup to add fat and protein efficiently. It’s important for ranchers to know what to consider and the traits to look for when assembling a quality grass-fed heard.

Dan Glenn is a farmer and rancher at Deep Grass Graziers in Fitzgerald, Ga which has been run by his family for four generations. By using the best cattle genetics, feeding them high quality forages, and handling them as humanely as possible, Glenn is able to produce healthier grass-finished beef. Glenn will present at the 18th Annual Georgia Organics Conference, Recipe for Change: Better Farms, Better Flavors, which will be held on Feb. 20-21, 2015, at the Classic Center in Athens, Ga. We spoke to him about his expertise and the grass-fed beef industry.

What kind of changes have you seen in the grass-fed beef industry over the years?
The production side is growing very fast, mostly with small scale producers, and a handful of larger, more sophisticated and integrated programs.

Continue reading →


17 Dec 14

A Recipe For Change: Karen Smith on Pollinators

by Claire Maxwell

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Pollinators are essential if we want to keep eating tasty foods like blueberries, or even chocolate and honey. But they face a lot of issues like diseases and misuse of pesticides that make it difficult for them to thrive. Farmers can help by planting certain foods that recreate pollinators’ natural environments.

Karen Smith runs Southern Native Plantings, a nursery in Newington, Ga that grows native and non-invasive plant species. Trees, shrubs, and herbs from the nursery are available through markets like Augusta Locally Grown, Statesboro Market2Go, and Savannah Locally Grown. Smith, along with Perri Campis of Georgia Organics, will present at the 18th Annual Georgia Organics Conference, Recipe for Change: Better Farms, Better Flavors, which will be held on Feb. 20-21, 2015, at the Classic Center in Athens, Ga. We spoke to Karen about pollinators and what farmers can do to support them.

Three reasons why pollinators are awesome:
1. They pollinate! This is moving pollen between flowers. It might not sound exciting but we wouldn’t be eating a lot of good food if they didn’t do this vital job for us! Depending on who you talk to or what website you look at, they are responsible for 30-75% of the food that we put on our table. A world without pollinators would be a world without apples, blueberries, strawberries, chocolate, almonds, melons, peaches, or pumpkins.

2. They give us some really good by-products (i.e. honey)

3. Their presence is a witness to a healthy environment!

What are the main threats to pollinators?
1. Misuse of pesticides. It is no secret that bee die-off is a problem (CCD-Colony Collapse Disorder.) Bees are insects, also, and when pesticides are used to keep “bugs” off our plants it affects them, too. One particularly dangerous group is the neonicotinoids, which are systemic, meaning they don’t merely remain on the leaves, they are taken up in the plant itself. Continue reading →


16 Dec 14

‘Tis the Season for Conservation Easements

by Brooke Hatfield

Ecologist Rena Ann Stricker monitors an agricultural easement.  Contact her to explore a conservation easement for your farm, rstricker@galandtrust.org.

Ecologist Rena Ann Stricker monitors an agricultural easement. Contact her to explore a conservation easement for your farm, rstricker@galandtrust.org.

By Katherine Eddins, Georgia Land Trust Executive Director

While people are busy with all the festivities and wonder of the holidays, land trusts are busy too: working together to help in their unique ways to protect farmland as open space forever.

Farmers who do conservation easements need to get them done by year’s end for tax planning purposes and like most folks, they wait until the last minute to finalize the detail, so easements coincide with the holidays and add to the spirit of giving with lots of new protected land.

I have a farm and work with farmers whose lands make up 50 percent of our 250,000 acres of land protected with 750 conservation easements. Agricultural easements are used as a tool to help safeguard our states’ prime soils on private lands.

A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a private land trust or government agency that permanently limits used of the land in order to protect its conservation values. Agricultural easements allow landowners to continue to own and use their land for farming, growing trees, hunting and recreational activities. They can also sell the land or pass it on to their heirs.

Many landowners want to protect the land so that future generations can enjoy the legacy of a beautiful farm’s scenic landscape including its woods, waters, and wildlife habitat. Landowners have protected amazing wildlife habitat through preservation of working farms and forests across our state.

Landowners are also motivated by the economic benefit of conservation easements, some more than others. Easement gifts can result in significant income and other tax benefits to the donors. An appraisal is required to establish the development and other economic value a landowner is giving up when the landowner makes a donation or sells a conservation easement.

Please contact Rena Ann Stricker, Director of Conservation, if you are interested in exploring a conservation easement for your farm, rstricker@galandtrust.org. Click here for more information about the Georgia Alabama Land Trust. Between now and year-end, we expect to close on easements protecting an additional 15,000 acres of land. ‘Tis truly the season for land protection!


15 Dec 14

A Recipe For Change: Kellie and Ben Deen on Raising Hogs Outdoors

by Claire Maxwell

ben and kellie forsythHogs are in high demand from chefs everywhere. Raising hogs outdoors allows for better quality of meat which can help your farm become more profitable.

Kellie and Ben Deen own and operate Savannah River Farms in Newington, Ga. They specialize in raising their livestock naturally to produce better tasting and healthier meat. The Deens will speak at the 18th Annual Georgia Organics Conference, Recipe for Change: Better Farms, Better Flavors, which will be held on Feb. 20-21, 2015, at the Classic Center in Athens, Ga. We talked to the Deens about the benefits of raising animals outdoors and what they have learned about raising hogs.

Why do you think it’s so important to raise hogs naturally outdoors?
Hogs are very social animals, and when I see pictures of hogs in crates it makes me sick to my stomach. They are such smart animals and to keep them in those crates is a fate worse than death. We feel that they are so much healthier living outdoors in the fresh air and mentally, the rewards are amazing. The meat quality is much higher than swine raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) as all they do is stand there and eat, whereas our hogs and pigs run and play and take mud baths and really enjoy life. We do not butcher small pigs for our restaurants as we want them to have a life of enjoyment before their end comes. People really underestimate the intelligence of a hog. We handle ours very quietly when moving them from pen to pen and loading them to go to slaughter which is only a few hundred feet as we slaughter on our farm. You just use the right body language to get them to go where you need them to.

Continue reading →


12 Dec 14

FoodCorps Fridays: RE: FoodCorps Service Term

by Brooke Hatfield

By Andrea Blanton, FoodCorps Service Member

Dear Reader,

BH Workday VolsI write to you in jubilee of the work I have been privileged to witness and achieve. This letter is a service love letter. I want to express to you the introduction of fresh food to youth, the support of parents, teachers and staff of the farm to school initiative and the amazing boost of those of you cheering this initiative on.

In honesty, I was nervous at the onset of my service term. I do have children of my own and yes they eat “healthier” than others. I wanted to enter schools with an open mind of their food culture and garden practices; Manifest Destiny is not my “modus operandi.” I thought “how would I want my children to be taught about food and gardening while at school?” So I sat down and mapped out these steps:

  • Hang out and observe
  • Share skills and gifts (both parties)
  • Follow-up on inquiries and projects
  • Support the school

Seem simple right? Well I wasn’t exactly invited with open arms. My philosophy is go where the love flows easily. Beecher Hills Elementary School, located in southwest Atlanta, has an amazing science lab teacher by the name of Yolanda Banks. Mrs. Banks was and is so excited to have the Captain Planet Foundation and FoodCorps at the school. A one-woman science show, she wasn’t really sure how to manage the garden or incorporate it into her lessons. What I did notice was her openness to the possibilities. Continue reading →


12 Dec 14