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Behind the Conference: David Shields

What role do you play in the local, organic food movement?

I chair the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation and also the Slow Food Ark of Taste for the South.  My efforts in the past decade have concentrated on the recovery of the most important and flavorful food crops developed in our region.  This entails knowing the history of southern agriculture and cuisine, knowing where seeds likely survive, recovering germ plasm, and putting it into cultivation.  These historic cultivars came into being at a time when field conditions were more austere and less controlled; they do not respond well to conventional ag practices.  Only organic cultivation enables their restoration.  All of these ingredients—purple ribbon sugar cane, Carolina African Runner Peanut, Carolina Gold Rice, sea island red pea, purple straw wheat, benne, the Bradford Watermelon, the rice pea, red bearded upland rice, jimmy red corn, white lamas wheat, bere barley, sea island white flint corn, Seashore Blackseed Rye, Guinea flint corn, African white sorghum, timilia wheat, Cocke’s prolific corn, —have superlative flavor as well as a storied place in our food.  They provide signature ingredients to farmers that command premium prices.

Why are you excited to present about your topic and what are some key takeaways attendees will get from your session?

Georgia pioneered the local food movement in 1913 when the State Chamber of Commerce had every county and hotel in the state prepare a feast made up of local favorites.  It had and has a particular wealth of signature ingredients associated with it that have fallen out of public notice—the Georgia Winter Turnip, the Rattlesnake Watermelon, the Purple Ribbon Sugar Cane, the Belle of Georgia Peach,  the Yates Apple, the Elberta Peach, the Stubbs Mulberry, the Rome Pecan—ripe for renovation.  Each has a story and a quality that has to be revived.  I will suggest how to renovate both.

What is your vision for the future of organic farming in Georgia

Georgia for the most part is blessed with water resources that make it a mecca of vegetable farming.  The demand by baby food companies and other major processors for quality organic produce places a premium on the ability to scale up from small to medium size farm operations.  The current practice of diversified offerings makes sense, as well as the effort to engage in value added small batch processing.  The current interest by artisan distillers in landrace grains will be a boon to heirloom corn and rye growers.

What about the Georgia Organics conference do you look forward to the most?

Meeting growers who I don’t already know and interacting with them about future directions in cultivation.

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