SAVANNAH, Ga. — Georgia Grown, the marketing and economic development program of the Georgia Department of Agriculture, wants everyone to know that the state produces more than just peaches and peanuts. That’s why Georgia Grown is hosting international and national media guests, grocery buyer executives, state officials and culinary experts on a first-ever, invitation-only culinary tour of Southern and Coastal Georgia that begins today in Savannah.
Highlights of the three-day tour include farm tours and a visit to the Vidalia® Onion and Vegetable Research Center along with wine-paired meals prepared by celebrity chefs and pitmasters using ingredients produced in Georgia. The event culminates on Wednesday with an exclusive dinner at the Stanley Lodge in Lyons, Georgia.
According to Gary W. Black, Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture, “We have a wide variety of crops across our state that earn recognition for their quality. There’s something special about food grown in Georgia. Whether the one-of-a-kind flavor of a Vidalia onion or the sweet taste of Georgia blueberries, these foods contribute to a unique dining experience.”
As of 2018, Georgia had 41,600 small, medium and large farms, covering more than 10 million total acres. Crops range from citrus and carrots to beets and brussels sprouts. Because of the variety of crops grown here and a thriving agritourism business, the Georgia Department of Agriculture calls Georgia “Nature’s Favorite State.”
Vidalia® sweet onions are unique to Georgia and have been grown here for more than 80 years. The name is protected by trademark. The taste derives from the combination of weather, water and soil found within 20 South Georgia counties. Vidalia onions are available from April to August and are widely considered the state’s official vegetable. The Vidalia Onion and Vegetable Research Center was established in 1999 in Lyons on land-owned by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Blueberries are the number one fruit crop in Georgia. In 2017, the state’s farms produced 39 million pounds of blueberries from 18,328 acres, with a total value of more than $120 million a year. Georgia soil and climate are well-suited for growing blueberries, particularly the Southern Highbush and Rabbiteye varieties.
Georgia has also become a leader in organic farming. In 2016, Georgia had 83 certified organic farms that produced $48.2 million in certified organic products. The top two certified organic commodities sold in Georgia were chicken eggs, with sales valued at $33.3 million, and cultivated blueberries, with sales valued at $4.3 million.
Farming has long had an important role in Georgia, in particular family farms. The growth of agriculture and agritourism today are fueling rural economic development in towns like Metter, another stop on the tour, where the Welcome and Georgia Grown Center provides visitors with a taste of Georgia by showcasing Georgia Grown products from across the state.
“With this tour, we hope to showcase the importance of these family farms and how they add significant value to their communities,” said Matthew Kulinski, Georgia Grown program manager. “The best way for Georgians to support our farm families and agricultural sector is to look for Georgia Grown products in grocery stores and on their restaurant menus.”
—Julie McPeake, Georgia Department of Agriculture