TJ Burton drove away with enough fresh produce on Thursday from the second Georgia Grown To Go farmers market for herself and a family member who can’t leave the house often due to the coronavirus pandemic.
She got one of everything, including produce that wasn’t offered at the first event in May – a farmers basket, watermelon, peaches, mushrooms, chicken and more.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Burton said. “I think anyone who has the ability to participate should. It’s fresh food being brought to the community. I appreciate it.”
The drive-thru farmers market was made possible through a partnership between Gwinnett County, the Gwinnett Stripers and the Georgia Department of Agriculture. For the second time, the event took place at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville.
Lindsey Jorstad, Gwinnett County Outreach Manager, said there were a little more than 750 pre-orders made two hours before preordering closed Wednesday. An additional 1,500 to 3,000 boxes were available Thursday as well for day-of sales, she said.
“We heard such great things last time, both of how they enjoyed having produce to take home that night to cook as a family unit and of have a variety of choices, that we wanted to offer it again,” Jorstad said. “And then of course we heard the excitement of ‘please do this again.’”
Paul Thompson, marketing division director for the Georgia Department of Agriculture, said there were seven farms represented at the event, compared to five in May. He said he was happy the community asked for a second event.
“This was my first time,” another visitor, Shima Baronian, said. “I just happened to see it on Facebook about an hour ago. I ended up getting the sampler. I just love farmers markets and I miss being able to go out to get fresh, organic, locally grown stuff.”
Howard Berk, co-owner and president of Ellijay Mushrooms, which is located in North Georgia, said Thursday was also his first time participating in the Georgia Grown To Go farmers market in Gwinnett, which has proven to be beneficial to farmers like him.
“It’s amazing to make the cut to be in here,” he said. “It just proves that our product is good quality. Every dollar for us makes a difference and it helps us keep our employees employed, especially in North Georgia where there’s not a lot of opportunity, except at chicken factories.”
Berk brought 500 packages of his shiitake mushrooms to the farmers market, more than half of which had been pre-ordered. He said that if he didn’t sell the rest he would donate them to the staff working the event. Throughout the pandemic, he’s donated to hospitals, first responders and police departments.
“A lot of our sales were from restaurants before the pandemic, so this helps us out,” Berk said. “Every little bit counts. Sales go up and down. This week was not good. Some weeks are better than others, but we’re doing some stuff with Georgia Grown and Georgia Organics that’s helping some of the farmers donate to the community.”
Berk also explained that shiitake mushrooms carry a lot of Vitamin D, which helps build the immune system. One thing he’s been working to do is to change the way people think about mushrooms as being “slimy.”
“Our mushrooms are earthy and meaty and have an umami flavor,” he said. “Because they’re so meaty, they’re a good meat replacer for vegans and vegetarians. You can just cook it and put it in anything.”
Like Berk, Gwinnett County also used the opportunity of the farmers market to give back. Jorstad said 67 boxes were purchased to be donated to Path Project communities on Friday. The nonprofit organization works with five mobile home communities within Gwinnett County to distribute food after school and in the summertime.
The county is still trying to determine whether it can offer a third or more Georgia Grown To Go events since some produce stops growing in July and August. However, Jorstad said the county will continue to work on different initiatives to benefit Georgia Grown and Gwinnett residents.
For example, on Monday, June 22, the county purchased 3,590 mixed boxes of produce and worked with a little over 27 organizations to distribute the boxes to the families that the organizations serve on a regular basis who have a great need for access to food, Jorstad said.
“That was a huge undertaking and partnership between Georgia Grown and Gwinnett County government and local nonprofits that we worked with under Gwinnett Cares,” she said.