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Agriculture commissioner shares updates on department

Photo by M.J. Subiria Arauz
Gary Black, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Agriculture, said the department is planning to make the Atlanta State Farmers Market a premier location.

Photo by M.J. Subiria Arauz Gary Black, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Agriculture, said the department is planning to make the Atlanta State Farmers Market a premier location.

By M.J. Subiria Arauz

marauz@news-daily.com

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said his agency is planning various improvements, including turning the Atlanta State Farmers Market, in Forest Park, into a premier market location.

Black addressed audience members during the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce's "SunTrust Early Bird Breakfast" on Thursday.

"We are here in Clayton County today, and the market is so important," he said.

He said the department will create a management team for the market, to provide a higher level of service. Other goals for the 150-acre market include attracting more Georgia farmers and increasing local products for consumers, he said.

"This facility has been around ... almost 50 years," said Black. "It has a rich heritage, but we do believe it has a very important future."

Black stressed that the Atlanta State Farmers Market is a hub of agricultural commerce for the Southeast region of the U.S. "If I were a Clayton County resident, I would be careful to say that, 'We are not an agriculture community,'" he said.

Lon Langston, president of Georgia National Produce, and the Atlanta Produce Dealers Association, concurred with Black. He added that the market is a hub not only for the Southeast, but for a huge produce distribution system. The system includes the U.S., Mexico, South America and the Caribbean.

He said produce comes from countries such as Canada, Chile and Peru, which is the largest importer to the U.S.

"It is easy to think that this farmer's market is supplying people in Clayton and Henry [counties] or metro Atlanta, but it is actually supplying North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, even northern Florida with produce, because they don't have a market like this," said Langston.

Agriculture Commissioner Black said other plans for the department include updating its technology and implementing a strategic planning process.

He said technology updates, such as laptops, will increase the efficiency of operations and will result in a higher quality of service.

The strategic planning process will allow expert Georgians -- including business owners licensed with the department -- to analyze the department, Black said.

Experts will look at the Department of Agriculture's operations to determine what it does well, what can be improved and what must cease, he said. "They are just looking at ... what are the services that the department provides, how do we interact with the regulated community, and then, how can we just do a better job," he explained.

Black said the department will receive a conclusion from the panel in July, on how it can improve in three and a half years.

Agriculture is "still our number-one industry in its entirety -- $68 billion in economic impact," said Black. "One in eight jobs in Georgia are somehow related to agriculture."