Rockdale Cooperative Extension, the University of Georgia’s outreach office in the county, is tackling the issue of the lack of fresh food opportunities locally. Extension agents specializing in agriculture, family and consumer sciences and youth development are collaborating to educate locals about the benefits of locally grown fresh food and working to increase the availability of these healthy foods.
“People want to know where their food comes from,” said Agricultural Agent Steve Pettis, Rockdale’s local expert in farming. “Whether it is buying locally produced food from the Rockdale Farmers Market or the online Conyers Locally Grown CSA or growing the food themselves, people are becoming more aware; awareness creates a demand for locally produced food.”
Another reason for Extension’s efforts in educating Rockdale residents about farming is that parts of Rockdale County have been labeled a “food desert” by the USDA. According to Pettis, “Food deserts are defined as “parts of the country that lack access to fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.” This is largely due to a lack of local grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.” He continued, “If there are not local grocery stores then people who are disadvantaged either shop at convenience stores or have to make difficult grocery shopping trips via public transportation or walking. This is really difficult for the elderly and single parents.”
Extension is addressing the problem by doing what they do best; delivering research based information from the university to the people of the county. According to Pettis, “The main goal of the Increasing Fresh Food Opportunities Initiative is to create and stimulate the availability of fresh food in Rockdale County. Our goal is to create new fresh food opportunities for people by bringing the Rockdale County community together to learn about how eating fresh food impacts their health. We also want to encourage the creation of new vegetable and livestock farms. Hopefully we grow the farmers market to support farms already producing vegetables locally.”
Extension will use a three pronged approach to educate Rockdale residents about the benefits of eating fresh locally grown produce. “I will focus on home vegetable gardening, starting a small farms and reducing pesticide use by utilizing low input production,” said Pettis. “Our Family and Consumer Sciences Agent Marybeth Kellett, a food science specialist, will focus on educating folks about the health benefits of consuming fresh produce and food preservation. Finally, our 4-H Agent Brittany Johnson who specializes in youth development, will provide kids the opportunity to learn about the benefits of eating and growing fresh foods through volunteer opportunities and educational projects.”
The first opportunity for community members to learn about producing their own food is coming up. Starting in February, Steve Pettis will be offering community members the chance to learn how to produce their own food right in their own backyard.
Backyard Farmer Class Schedule
February 17 – Backyard Flocks – learn how raising chickens, turkeys, ducks or quail can be rewarding.
March 2 – Producing Healthy Food; Home Vegetable Gardening – bring ‘farm-to-fork’ home with a backyard vegetable garden.
April 12 – Backyard Honey Bees – thinking about honeybees? Come see what it is all about.
May 4 – Small Livestock – livestock can be raised on a small scale using small animals. Learn how to raise rabbits and goats.
June 1 – Protecting Pollinators – Learn how to attract and protect pollinating and beneficial insects