Morgan County To Become New Ag Hub

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By Tia Lynn Lecorchick managing editor

The Madison-Morgan Chamber of Commerce hosted a Farmhouse Market informational session last week, arranged by the Madison-Morgan Conservancy, to update the public on the coming Farmers’ Market, set to be completed in the summer of 2015, located in Madison, along the I-20 corridor at Highway 441.

According to Laura Rotroff, of Kelly Products, “The Farmhouse Market is a natural outgrowth of our business and personal interests around farming, agriculture, education and community engagement.

At its core, The Farmhouse Market is a specialty market concept with an emphasis on butchered meats, a ‘Farm to Table’ café serving breakfast and lunch, and an open-air farmers market…The specialty grocery core offerings will include a butcher shop, proprietary meat products, and coffee, dairy, produce, nutrition and wellness and artisan crafts—in short, items that are uniquely local, southern or agrarian in their brand essence and are perceived as specialty, or high quality, by consumers.”

The farmers market is being made possible by a unique public-private partnership between the county and Kelly Products, Inc. Father-and-son team, Keith and Brad Kelly, spoke at meeting, discussing the new farmers’ market and retail outlet that will be located on Route 441. Michael Lamar, county manager, and Cindy Norton, agritourism manager for the Georgia Department of Agriculture, also addressed the crowd. About 50 people attended the informational session.

“Almost every seat was filled. It was a really good turnout,” said Keith Kelly, owner of Kelly Products, Inc. “The purpose of it was to introduce local farmers to the farmhouse market, which is what we are building in the county. We wanted to talk about the opportunities for local farmers to participate…there are going to be a lot of opportunities for young farmers and small farmers to get involved.”

According to Northeast Georgia Regional Tourism Strategy report, the Farmhouse Market could be another lucrative tourism destination to add to Morgan County’s already impressive list of tourism spots, 33 in all.

“Morgan County has a substantial number and array of attractions and resources for a County its size. At the same time, its tourism revenue and tax generation per capita places it near the top of the region, behind only Greene County. Other counties with similar populations, per-capita incomes, and rural nature largely fall behind Morgan County in terms of successfully making tourism an economic development strategy,” the report noted.

“For me, one of the best things is going to be bringing the community together, both the farmers and the general citizens to be able to buy fresh produce and fresh meat, produced locally. We also will give education about the food we are eating…a little bit of everything will be provided from and education perspective. We really hope to become a community gathering place, where people can be eating fresh, versus the commodity-produced products that we have all become accustomed to today,” continued Kelly.

“We want to be convenient and healthy,” added Kelly. “People want convenience, because of their busy lives, so we hope to incorporate fresh local food and be convenient. I think once a person tastes fresh, local produce, they will be convinced that it is the best way to get their produce and groceries. It’s just going to take time to get people educated, so they know the true value of it.”

Kelly hopes that the farmers market will flourish enough to expand his vision of healthy-eating even further. “One of the goals is to include school kids in this, from an education perspective. Down the road, it’s our hope that we can produce food economically enough to supply the schools and other institutions in our county with fresh produce and fresh meats, so it wouldn’t be just be about retail, but move into the wholesale area, too,” said Kelly.

According to Sean Dunlap a conservancy specialist with the Madison-Morgan Conservancy, chamber of commerce members from the Morgan, Walton, and Newton counties were invited, as well as local farmers and business owners. “We wanted to include anyone with an interest in agritourism and economic development,” said Dunlap.

“The Farmhouse Market is going to provide many new opportunities for the area’s regional farmers and business community alike…The conservancy decided to put this together because it is part of our FARMeander Program, a program aimed at connecting consumers with farmers.” “The overall vision for the farmers market is to provide education, retail environment and an agritourism destination, not only for just those in Morgan County, but for people all over the state,” said Dunlap.

“The meeting conveyed a real sense of excitement for how great this project is going to be…and what a great community fixture the farmers market will be, as well as a great economic boost for the area,” said Dunlap. Lamar is looking forward to all the benefits a farmers market will bring to Morgan County. “We are excited to work with Kelly Products on the Farmhouse Market project,” said Lamar.

“It’s a wonderful public-private partnership where we benefit from the expertise of Keith and his team in terms of their background in agriculture…and it should add a wonderful new agritourism opportunity for our community.”

All the planning that has gone into the Farmhouse Market is finally coming to fruition. We have cleared the land, and the civil engineering work is done. We are working to complete the building footprint so we can finalize building plans to break ground by early 2015. We are on track to open next summer. We are also securing our management team. We have not finalized our personnel needs yet, but we are collecting resumes from anyone interested, so if you know someone have them send an email to careers@kellyregcom. We will post information as it is available to careers page,’ said Rotroff.

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