SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Farmers and suppliers across Savannah are bringing local produce to the community and are providing alternatives for the public to obtain fresh organic food.

Starting as a small two-acre dairy farm, Local Farmbag is a co-op that works with local farmers from North Carolina to Florida to deliver quality produce straight to the doors of the public.

“We put a set amount of items in the bag every week, and people can swap things out from what’s available,” said Steve Howard, one of the co-owners of Local Farmbag.

This business model helps out small farms that don’t have the money or resources to produce large amounts of produce in the off-season like corporate farms.

“There’s no point for us doing what we’re doing if they can’t continue to be profitable and have the motivation to keep doing more and more stuff,” said Howard.

Organic produce does not last long, so anything that doesn’t sell in time is donated to the local community.

“We probably donated, I would say well over a thousand produce boxes to the local community just because I hate seeing produce good to waste,” said Howard. “Even if it’s something that we don’t make money on, I’d rather see someone use it than it actually gets thrown away.”

Increasing prices

The United States Department of Agriculture reported that all food prices are predicted to increase in 2023 by 5.9% and 2.8% in 2024.

“I would say we do our best to keep our costs fair and reasonable, but it amazes me how much things have gone up,” said Howard.

He notes that the price they paid per 25-pound case of peaches in 2022 was around $21-$22, and this year, $38 was the cheapest he could find.

Local farms improving the environment

“Obviously, there’s gonna be some environmental benefits to if food production can become more regional everywhere,” said Andrew Morris, the founder and owner of Savannah Hydroponics & Organics LLC.

He started his business in 2009 to provide fresh produce to urban communities and to educate others on hydroponics.

Hydroponics is a farming method that uses nutrient solutions instead of soil. With a more rational use of water, this practice is better for the environment than intensive farming.

Savannah Hydroponics & Organics LLC grows crops for high-end restaurants and farmers’ markets, and provides the tools for anyone to start their own farm.

“People just think that it’s impossible but nothing’s insurmountable, it’s having the right tools and the right education,” said Kelly Morris, chef and director of Gardening Resources Offering Wellness (G.R.O.W.), wife to Andrew Morris.

Hydroponic gardening can take place in any environment such as indoors, outdoors and even a closet.

Corporatization of produce

Local farms could relieve some issues of produce shortage from corporate suppliers who own 80% of the food market in the U.S., according to a report by The Guardian.

“The farmers lose, and the consumers lose which is unfortunate,” said Morris. “There is nothing wrong with a middle man, however, there is a lack of control over our health and food source in general.”

2022 research from the Northeastern University’s Network Science Institute found that 73% of America’s food supply is “ultra-processed.”

“When you have the little issues with the E. Coli and spinach, or. E. Coli and scarce for tomatoes or romain,” said Howard. “It’s not something that we never have to worry about because we’re not dealing with that huge manufacturer that’s filling the Walmarts.”

He notes that they are a necessity in the U.S., but are due to the habits of Americans eating out of season.

Due to some government regulations, small farmers are at a disadvantage breaking into the produce industry.

“There’s certain things you can’t take out of Florida, tomatoes being one, unless they’re stamped,” said Howard. “With us working with smaller farms, usually, they’re not gonna want to pay $250,000 to have a stamp that they can put on the box.”

Although they face immense struggles, Howard has seen an increase in smaller farms in Georgia.

“I think Georgia could do a lot better with more varieties and they’re starting to get better at it, as it takes a while to convince farmers to do something different and a lot of that is just because of the cost involved in It,” said Howard.

The Morris family is looking to work with the United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, to educate them on how to better help local farmers and improve transparency.

“What we’re seeing and what the contacts that I’ve had with the USDA team here in the state of Georgia. There’s a shift, and they’re starting to say ‘How can we include you? How can we fit you in?'” said Kelly Morris.

Produce transparency

“I don’t think there’s that good of communication with farmers from the customer to the farmer,” said Howard.

To mitigate this issue, Local Farmbag releases newsletters on market availability and is open to requests from customers. The Morrises do this through education and emphasize the benefits of getting your hands dirty and finding zen in the little things.

“I grew up with food at the center of my life, and so it’s how we build community, it’s how we bring people together, is how we celebrate, it’s how we mourn, it’s how we do all the things and having that deep connection,” said Kelly Morris.