Carrollton, Georgia (2002)

Carrollton, Georgia (population 20,000) once thrived on cotton farming. Today, developers from Atlanta eager to build subdivisions and strip malls are looking to buy up Carrollton’s farmland, which is owned mostly by elderly farmers. But the people behind the Cotton Mills Farmers Market have a different agenda for their region: preserving open space and farmland.

As small, local farms gradually diminish, so does the community’s connection to locally grown agriculture. To strengthen the connection between farmers and Carrollton residents, Wendy Krager created a farmers market that would increase consumers’ access to local food, allow farmers to profit from their work, and raise awareness about the need to protect farmland. Working with the University of Western Georgia, the town hospital, and a local banker and attorney, Krager opened the market in 2002. Today, 10-15 farmers sell their Georgia-grown produce to about 300 customers at weekly Saturday morning markets on a grassy downtown lot.

One noteworthy offshoot of the market is the two-year-old Farmers Fresh Food Cooperative. The cooperative works with local farmers to market their crops to restaurants in Birmingham, AL and Atlanta, GA. It also sponsors cooking demonstrations at the market and supports the growing trend among chefs to use local ingredients in their kitchens. Another is the Georgia Agriculture Land Trust, a citizen action group that works to protect zoning laws in Carrollton and conserve farmland. It is responsible for three farms being considered by the state as conservation land safe from sprawling development.

Despite many residents’ excitement about the newfound availability of local food, the market faces some challenges. One such challenge is how to make the market more appealing to people from Carrollton’s lower-income communities. Another is how to secure enough parking for customers. Market managers would also like to attract more farmers. Krager is working to break down the common myth that people cannot succeed financially at farming, and convincing local farmers that there are benefits to marketing their crops at the market.

Cotton Mills Farmers Market has work to do in order to grow sustainably, but it does achieve its goal of preserving open space by raising awareness of local food and increasing the walkability of downtown.

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