Every Saturday, you can hear squeals of joy as Jan Weisman and Raylan, her 6-year old Australian shepherd, walk along the boulevard of white tents at the Monroe Farmers Market.
As regulars at the market, everyone knows Jan and Raylan, particularly for their love of tomatoes. Their favorite snacks are tomatoes prepared any way, but especially homemade tomato pie, or for Raylan, fresh off the vine. When she’s not visiting the market to purchase tomatoes, Jan is tending to her home garden, filled with her favorite Cherokee purple heirloom tomatoes.
Like many communities in Georgia, Walton County has been trying to address the problem of food insecurity among many of its residents. In cities like Monroe and Social Circle, folks have to travel up to 10 miles to access grocery stores.
For Jan, the Monroe Farmers Market is important because it is the community’s main spot for food. Here, people can purchase fresh, locally grown produce that is not available at the few supermarkets in town. On top of that, the farmers market has become a gathering place for people to meet their local farmers, bring families and pets, and catch up with each other’s lives.
Over the years, Jan has become friends with vendors like Spring Hill Farm and Monroe’s community-voted “Favorite Farmer,” Sherrel Malcom. In fact, this season she has shared her own home-grown heirloom tomatoes with the farmers from whom she purchases her tomatoes. Even Raylan has his favorite vendors like Carrot Mountain Dog Treats, further proof that farmers markets have a little something for everyone.
Perhaps most importantly, Jan is able to actually purchase the produce at the farmers market through SNAP and the Georgia Fresh For Less program. “I get way more for my money than I do at the grocery store and the produce is better,” Jan says.
Doubling her SNAP dollars means Jan can buy the produce she enjoys and does not have to sacrifice quality for cost at conventional grocery stores. These programs and the farmers market have given Jan the opportunity to eat and purchase what she likes, all while introducing her to a community of local food growers like herself. “SNAP is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Jan asserts.
In addition to the Monroe Farmers Market, Walton County has brought together partners from across the community to bring innovative new initiatives and policies aimed at increasing the number of food access points to residents.
These efforts, combined with local residents like Jan, growing their own home gardens, have given Walton County the designation of a food oasis by Georgia Organics.
The future of Walton County’s food environment looks bright, but in the meantime, Jan will continue going home every Saturday morning with her bag full of beautiful, plump heirloom tomatoes, and perhaps a few peanut butter treats for Raylan too.
The story was contributed by Marisa Kanemitsu.