Jodi Helmer spent one year logging more than 15,000 miles across the state of Georgia all in the name of research. Her goal? To compile a guidebook of Georgia farms.
Helmer, a freelance travel and agriculture writer from North Carolina, says she went wherever the road took her in search of the best of whatever Georgia farms had to offer for “Farm Fresh Georgia,” (UNC Press, $22)
“I would follow a sign down a random dirt road to a farm stand or pumpkin patch,” says Helmer. “I visited about 400 different places. Not all of them made it into the book. I was looking for places that I felt comfortable sending other people.”
That includes not just farms, farm stands and farmers’ markets, but farm-to-table restaurants, lodging for overnight stays at farms, farms with family oriented activities, vineyards, dairy farms and more.
The book is a handy tool for planning pumpkin and apple picking adventures this fall, as well as finding travel destinations for agritourists, foodies and families.
Dividing the state into six regions, Helmer is able to offer not just descriptions of destinations, but also bit of the story behind each of these places. The book also includes 13 fresh local recipes.
Georgia, says Helmer, is more than just peaches and pecans.
“I was pleasantly surprised at the diversity of the crops in Georgia,” she says. “I found a farm that grows olives and makes extra virgin olive oil and a farm in Atlanta where they are growing persimmons, pomegranates and pineapples –- things you don’t think of as Georgia crops.”
Though Georgia farmers are doing lots of interesting and innovative things, it isn’t without some struggle, Helmer notes. While the book features mostly small, sustainable farms that are family owned and operated, at the larger farms she visited, there were crops dying on the vine because farmers can’t find the labor to harvest them. Agricultural labor is getting harder to find anywhere in the country, she says, but legislation in Georgia is making it particularly difficult.
Still, farmers have an amazing ability to face up to a challenge. “They are a passionate and scrappy and innovative group of people who will find a way to get it done,” says Helmer recalling one farm that partnered with a local prison to have inmates pick fruit, some of which they would later serve during meals.
In her research of the metro area, Helmer was amazed by the number of great farmers’ markets. “There are a lot of markets around the country that are pretty small and struggle. A lot of the markets in Georgia, especially in the Atlanta area, are robust and well attended. There are a lot of products and a good demand for local produce,” she says.
Local farmers’ markets have also gotten better at distinguishing themselves. Some are producer only markets where you can only sell what you have grown. Others are certified organic. Some are limited attendance, meaning they are restricted to farms in a certain geographical radius.
Helmer hopes the guide will encourage people get out and explore their foods sources.
“We tend to get very comfortable with our local farmers’ markets and go to the same place every weekend. I would love for people to just add something new to the repertoire. There is so much diversity and creativity happening on Georgia farms, I would love for people to get out and experience that.”