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Thursday, March 10, 2011 - 1:23pm

Organic Conference Underway In Savannah

Organics Conference (Web)

Georgia's organic farmers have one eye on the ground and another on Atlanta as they meet for an annual conference this weekend.

About 1,000 participants -- not all of them farmers -- are expected to attend the Georgia Organics Conference in Savannah.

The group's goal is to "celebrate good food."

There will be plenty of workshops on farming and cooking techiques.

But it's also an opportunity for supporters of sustainable agriculture and locally-based food movements to rally efforts for a more favorable legislative climate.

Michael Wall, the conference's spokesman, says regulations on free-range chickens are just one example of how Georgia is holding back organic farmers, who tend to do much less business and to be less politically-connected than larger farmers.

"Our farmers can grow and raise free-range chickens organically but then they have to drive out-of-state to get them processed," says Wall. "There are chicken processors in Georgia but they require 60,000 chickens a year and they won't touch the smaller guys."

Georgia's new Agriculture Commissioner, Gary Black, is expected to address the conference.

Despite their challenges, sustainable agriculture and community-based food movements are growing in Georgia.

Wall says, certified organic farmland has gone up 600% in the past five years.

And Savannah is a good example of a community that's -- slowly -- embracing ideas embraced by the conference-goers.

In recent years, Savannah has welcomed a thriving new farmers market, a new farm-to-home vegetable delivery program and several new restaurants focused on locally-grown ingredients.

Savannah's Telfair Museum recently showed a series of films as part of a "Reel Food" film festival.

The city is hosting the conference -- now in its 14th year -- for the first time.

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