Last week, the Georgia Micro Enterprise Network held a Town Hall on 21st Century Food and Farming. GMEN works to promote micro-enterprises, which are businesses that have five employees or fewer. GMEN seeks to grow these “Mom and Pop” enterprises by providing the support and business training they need. This meeting was focused on food businesses, where micro-enterprises face the challenge of an extra competitive market dominated by large, industrialized farms.
Elizabeth Wilson, Executive Director of GMEN, told us that 60 percent of our food comes from 2 percent of farms- showing the shocking amount of control that a small number of industrialized farms have over the market. That is why meetings in which small businesses owners share expertise, strategies and stories are so important.
First we heard from Mary Charles Howard, the founder of Georgia Farm Tours. A true micro-enterprise, Food and Farm Tours in Georgia is managed solely by Howard, based in Athens. Both her agro-cycling tours and her restaurant tours, which sample menus from 5-6 local restaurants, are big hits.
Christina Hylton, Community Agriculture Program Director for the Athens Land Trust, spoke to us about their outreach programs. The Athens Land Trust works to revitalize their community through programs like the Young Urban Farmer Development Program, a land conservation program, and Good Roots, where people with disabilities grow seedlings for sale. We even got to hear from Rodney, a student who participated in the Young Urban Farmer Development Program. This program is offered after school in Clarke County for academic credit, and teaches high school students not only how to garden, but how to open a bank account and apply to college.
Next, Caroline Black told us about her educational programs at Jaemor Farm in Alto, Georgia. She utilizes the farm as a teaching tool for students of all ages, bringing in elementary school students and their parents. She helps the students connect to the land and their local farmers, making them more likely to come back to buying local produce.
Lastly, we heard from Dr. Fred Harrison Jr., the newly appointed state director of the Farmer’s Services Agency. He urged attendees to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the new Farm bill. This bill provides much needed extra funds for many small farming and ranching businesses. If your business might be eligible, learn more here.