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Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 1:25pm

Tasting Georgia At The Farmers Market

It's already approaching 80 degrees on this sweltering Saturday morning in Forest Park, just south of Atlanta. Trailer-sized generators power cooking demonstrations, freezers, and smoking pots brimming with boiled peanuts.

Vehicles snake through the market, pulling up alongside vendor sheds -- tent-like structures over a dozen feet tall and hundreds of feet long.

But at the Georgia Grown showcase, under sheds 13 and 14, the scene is different. Here, organizers have closed off vehicle traffic, encouraging face-to-face interaction as customers amble from stall to stall.

Shoppers stream in from the oppressive heat to the relative cool of the shed’s canopy. Here, they’re met with ready smiles and vendor tables cascading with fresh breads, cakes, vegetables and fruit.

And you get to ask for a taste.

One stall has neatly stacked jars and bottles framing a vendor hocking honey. His name is Grant Giddens of the Atlanta Bee Company and the edge of his booth’s table is lined with tiny spoons for taste testing.

"You like the wildflower?"

"I like the wildflower better."

The customer cups her hands under her chin to catch errant drops of honey.

"It's very good for allergies," says Giddens.

"mmhmm. And since it's local," the customer replies.

"Yes ma'am."

"That's what I need today, yeah."

Nearby a hog farmer vies for the attention of group of elderly men strolling by his booth.

"Y'all eat pork? Well I raise hogs. So we've got something in common."

Welton Bettis, a cheerful 50-something with curly gray hair, is from Gay -- about 55 miles south of Atlanta. For Bettis, farming began as a hobby:

"I bought some land down there years ago. And I was in the construction business. And it vanished. And I...I sat around with nothing to do and I submitted some product to the "flavor of georgia" food contest sponsored by the University of Georgia and the Dept. of Ag. And was selected as a finalist. And so my exposure there, you know, it was alerted me or made me aware of a lot of this food movement"

And he isn’t alone. Sandy Hurlbutt is from Alvaton, not far from Bettis’ hog farm and just south of Peachtree City. She raises goats to sell goat milk and goat-milk products:

"Goats milk is just known for any kind of skin issues like eczema or psoriasis, rosacea," says Hurlbutt.

Bars of goat-milk soaps and lotion bottles are elegantly placed on display. The white bottles contrast against the sky blue table cloth beneath them. Hurlbutt’s display feels less like a farmer's market booth and more like a department store.

"Started making it because my grandson had the eczema. And it helped him so much that it just blew into a big business. And then now my daughter and I do it as a mother and daughter business," Hurlbutt says.

Skin products aren’t the only non-edible items on display. I ran into Bari Horisberger, an Alpaca farmer from Douglasville:

"This is made with needle felting. These are called bird nesting balls."

About half the size of a tennis ball, the nesting balls look like manicured tufts of fur you'd find in your dog or cat's grooming brush -- except the fur is much thicker, pillowy to the touch.

"And what you do is you put it in the tree. And the birds can pull fiber out to line their nests," says Horisberger

With products from Alpaca fur bird nests and Georgia-grown olive oil to fresh pork and rare honey, the Georgia Grown Farmers Showcase puts Georgia Agriculture’s variety on display.

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