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You can still cook local for the holidays
After 35,700 shoppers downtown, Farmers Market continues online
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Tina Whittle, 45, of Statesboro (center) purchases food from the Statesboro Market2Go pickup location in front of Sugar Magnolia on Savannah Avenue Thursday with her daughter Kayley Whittle, 13, and son Sean Clark, 12. Paula Freeman, the Market2Go manager, processes the transaction. - photo by JASON WERMERS/staff

Whether you season your collards with cured pork or keep vegan and prefer arugula, you can cook locally grown food for the holidays. The Mainstreet Farmers Market recently folded its tents until April, but its online community market continues year-round.
    The farmers market occupied the Sea Island Bank parking lot, smack in the middle of downtown Statesboro, during daylight hours for 33 Saturdays from April 7 through November 17. Then the twilight till dark Shopping by Lantern Light put a bow on the season the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
    Sherry Rich’s basket gaped with light and dark green discoveries she seemed as proud of as a kid might be of eggs at a different holiday.
    “Look at that broccoli; you can’t find broccoli that pretty anywhere else. And look at this lettuce; it’s gorgeous!” she said.
    That ought to make vegetable grower John Beblowski proud too. He’d just sold them to her at Shopping by Lantern Light. From the 2 acres he tends in the Hopeulikit community he brought “Bibb lettuce, green leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, two different types of bokchoy, purple top turnips, broccoli, cabbages, Roma tomatoes, red grape tomatoes and yellow grape tomatoes,” to quote him.
    His cold-weather greens, “lots and lots of collards and flat-leaf and curly-leaf mustard,” had just started to come in. Those he plans to offer through the online market, where he appears under his business name, HoneyDewFarm.
    While at this point you can’t enjoy quite the same experience that shoppers had during their almost 36,000 visits to the in-person Main Street Market this season, you can buy from many of the same producers.
    Market2Go
    “Most all of the vendors who sell at the market also sell online,” said Debra Chester, the Main Street Farmers Market’s volunteer manager. “So, in other words, we really don’t miss a beat. We just keep on going.”
    She describes shoppers at both markets as “an eclectic combination.” As a university town, Statesboro nurtures foodies in a national movement that cites environmental, health and economic reasons for eating locally grown food. But as one of Georgia’s top 25 farming counties, Bulloch also has country folks who’ve always preferred to eat what they and their neighbors grow.
    True, alfalfa sprouts and arugula turned up first among available vegetables last week at statesboromarket2go.locallygrown.net. But the list is alphabetical. Collards, mustard greens and sweet potatoes were there too, and for those who ventured to look under “meat,” so were ham hocks, smoked bacon and many cuts of beef.
    You can even find a locally grown, free-range turkey, but it will cost you. A $50 deposit reserves a “heritage” turkey costing $6.49 a pound or a “broad-breasted” turkey for $5.49 a pound at delivery.
    Hunter Cattle Grass-fed Beef, owned and operated by Del and Debra Ferguson near Stilson, raises the turkeys, as well as free-range chickens and ducks and pastured hogs. In fact, Hunter Cattle is responsible for the majority of meat items sold through Statesboro Market2Go. The beef and pork prices are more comparable to those in supermarkets.
    Southern Swiss Dairy in Burke County sells milk, cheese, butter, Greek-style yogurt and – talk about holiday fare – egg nog through the online market.
    Five different farms offer fresh eggs.
    The flour for your holiday baking is available through the market from Freeman’s Mill, based at Stacey and Paula Freeman's place on Country Club Road. Paula Freeman serves as manager of the community online market, which launched in fall 2010.
    The market also carries the Freemans’ cane syrup, and there’s honey from B&G Honey Farm near Register.
    As of this week, the site’s “growers” page lists 29.  Most are farms of one description or another. But also listed are Bobby Joe’s BBQ Sauce, five bakeries, a Savannah pasta maker and a purveyor of wild Alaska salmon, reportedly from family-owned fishing boats that winter in South Carolina.
    The number of member shoppers has more than doubled in the past year, to about 300, Freeman said.
    Both the online market and the in-person seasonal market are considered producer-only markets. Reselling things other people made is permitted only for a few nonfood exceptions, such as the library’s book sales. Both operate under auspices of the city government, with the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority taking their calls.
    Organic farming methods are not required for participation. The Statesboro Market2Go site displays organic certification seals for growers who’ve earned them and noncertified claims such as “no chemicals” for others.
    Farmer markets surge
    Georgia Organics, a nonprofit group promoting organic farming statewide, tracks producer-dominated farmers markets, which do not have to pay to be listed in its guide. The number of these markets, where at least two-thirds of vendors sell things they produce themselves, soared from just nine in 2003 to 152 in 2012, according to Michael Wall, the organization’s communications director. There had been 96 in 2010.
    “Instead of growing stuff that’s shipped overseas or growing stuff that’s turned into something that’s not quite food, people are growing food in Georgia, and Georgians are eating Georgia food,” Wall said. “That’s what it indicates to us.”
    In 2012, Main Street Market’s fifth year, the Saturday markets averaged a little more than 1,000 visitors each, totaling 35,767 counted visits for the season, and bringing vendors self-reported revenues of $194,521. That was a record, Chester said, up from $189,900 in 2011.
    Neither year’s total includes the special markets held on the GSU campus two Tuesdays a month for three months in the spring and two months in the fall.
    At Shopping by Lantern Light 2012, teenage volunteers using clickers counted about 3,200 visitors, the most ever for a Main Street Market event.
    This year, Statesboro’s in-person market was one of six around the state to launch the My Market Club, a three-year, grant-funded project by Georgia Organics to introduce new customers to farm market shopping. People who sign that they have never shopped at a farm market receive a $5 token stamped “produce only” on each of their first two visits and a canvas shopping bag on their third. The Statesboro market saw 252 new shoppers from the club this season.
    Several departments at Georgia Southern University and Ogeechee Technical College assign students to promote the markets or use them as a forum for community education. Earlier this year, students in a GSU College of Business Administration entrepreneurship class signed up 100 customers for Statesboro Market2Go, Chester noted.
    One group the markets haven’t reached very well is people with low incomes, she admitted. People who receive SNAP, popularly known as food stamps, can swipe their EBT cards through a reader at the in-person market and get tokens for buying produce, dairy and meat. But Chester said the market has received only $30 or $40 a week this way.
    The EBT option is not available for the online market, which accepts only cash and checks at the delivery points.
    “We’re very open to try to appeal to those folks by showing them that the food that they can buy at the market is of equal or greater value than what they may be thinking they’re buying somewhere else that’s less expensive,” Chester said.

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