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Posted: April 23, 2011 6:06 p.m.

A Fresh Choice

Jessica Smith/

Brady Bala and Neil Taylor greet customers as they come to pick up their order of fresh-picked produce.

For 10 years, Conyers Locally Grown has been a source of joy for locals seeking exceptionally fresh products straight from a farmer’s hands to their kitchen tables.

It is a community-supported agriculture system with the slogan, "Small Farms Making a Difference."

It also gives proud farmers/growers a way to showcase and benefit from their months of hard work.

"I’ll go cut lettuce Friday morning, depending on the order, that I’ll then deliver Friday afternoon," said Brady Bala, market manager and grower at his Double B Farm in Oxford.

"I don’t think you can get any fresher than that."

The network has about 20 farmers/growers with more than 375 products offered. None uses synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Customers have everything from organic bath salts to duck eggs to choose from online.

Bala strives to ensure the farm-to-table process runs smoothly. Customers must put in their weekly orders online by 8 p.m. Tuesday. They pick them up Friday 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Copy Central on Parker Road in Conyers.

What is available depends on what is in season. In a few weeks, farmers will start on peppers and cucumbers, for instance, while greens will dwindle because it is getting too warm. Bala will soon order seeds for his fall garden. He is about 30-45 days away from harvesting garlic he planted in October.

"The farmer is always looking at the next step," Bala said. "You’ve got to have plans. You’ve got to be prepared."

He said he has been so busy he did not realize the network’s 10-year milestone.

Conyers Locally Grown markets to just under 400 customers, although it does not get that many ordering weekly. Most customers order about once a month, but about 20 consistently order weekly.

Bala believes interest has grown mainly through word of mouth because of increased consumer awareness about healthy eating benefits and a desire to know where food comes from and how it is grown.

"It’s not for everybody because some things can be somewhat expensive," he explained. "But when you buy a gallon of milk or pint of strawberries from us, money goes straight to the farmer. That’s the beauty of this whole system. When we get together as small farmers we can rival the offerings of the big stores."

 There is a $25 annual fee per household after the third order. The first two orders are a free trial. For more information on Conyers Locally Grown, visit www.conyers.locallygrown.net.

Locally grown grows

 "I think 'local' is what's happening now," said Newton County farmer Mary Denton, who owns Denton Flower Farm. "To me, it's more important to eat local than to get hung up on whether there's a certified organic label on it."

Denton's farm, which has been certified organic since 1995, is a more traditional CSA than Conyers Locally Grown. Families buy what are essentially shares of Denton's farm. Their shares entitle them to a weekly box of produce. All produce is what is currently in season. By buying shares, the 25 families that make up Denton's CSA buy into both the risks and profits of the farm.

Denton said the arrangement is beneficial for both sides. She is ensured a steady cash flow and her customers, who mostly come from the Covington area, are provided with locally grown produce once a week. Other benefits for customers include an intimate knowledge of the food chain that was used in their produce's creation and which natural resources were expended for it.

"If you are disconnected or oblivious as to where your food comes from, then it doesn't matter to you whether you pave over a forest [to produce it]... smog doesn't matter to you, oil spills don't matter to you," Denton said.

Neil Taylor, owner of Split Cedar Farm in Henry County, a CSA with 150 member families, believes that CSAs are the wave of the future. Just as most Americans have pediatricians and dentists that they regularly see, so too Taylor believes, will they form similar relationships with their local farmers.

As with all CSAs, customers who are used to walking into a supermarket and purchasing a carton of strawberries or blueberries year round, will have to adjust their diets to eating seasonal produce. The early spring harvest for Denton's farm with its cabbages, broccoli, carrots and lettuce will soon be coming to an end and customers are saying goodbye to those vegetables until the fall.

 "Part of eating local is eating with the season and getting back to where our forefathers were," Denton said.

Whether it's joining a traditional CSA like Denton's or Taylor's or going for a more casual approach by purchasing food items from Conyers Locally Grown, Newton County residents have options.

"We have plenty of room for both customers and growers," said Bala.

 

 Rachel Oswald contributed to this article.

 

 

 

 

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