By Loren Lindler
It comes at no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about challenging times for Georgians. Between teleworking, businesses changing their hours and means of operating, jobs lost, and schools moving to online instruction, everyone has been forced to find new ways of working, including Georgia farmers.
State representative and restaurant owner Kasey Carpenter saw the devastation happening in his community and across the state. Even in these strenuous times, he knew that he needed to step in and help.
As a restaurant owner, he experienced the repercussions of the pandemic. The team at Oakwood Cafe in Dalton had to make a new plan. After opening their doors in 2004, they certainly were not used to operating under such circumstances.
As a result of shifting their business plan, they created an app to offer online ordering. Though Oakwood Cafe's revenue plummeted to 30%, they never closed their doors. They were able to continue providing carry out orders for their customers.
"It was important to stay open for the community," explained Carpenter.
Drew Echols at Jaemor Farms told Carpenter of a contract he lost with a supplier. Carpenter wanted to step in and help; so they started the #GeorgiaStrawberryWars. This is a battle between Whitfield and Clarke Counties where the two are in a competition to see who can sell the most strawberries.
Seeing the devastation these farms were experiencing, Echols recommended that Carpenter speak to Gary Black, Georgia Department of Agriculture commissioner, about supply chain issues and how he could help.
Oakwood Cafe has partnered with the Georgia Department of Agriculture and Georgia Grown to sell Georgia Grown To-Go boxes at Dalton State College. On May 20, those in the area can purchase a produce box with a mix of broccoli, zucchini, squash, corn, Vidalia onions, blueberries, cucumbers, and green beans for $20.
With a goal of selling 20,000 produce boxes, many businesses and industries in the community have stepped up. Several have purchased boxes for their employees to help feed their families, and to aid in the supply chain issue.
In the last two weeks, the vision has come to life. Carpenter has sourced produce from across the state to create these Georgia Grown To-Go produce boxes. Farms include L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms, Pineneedle Farms, Corbett Brothers Farms, Chill C Farms and Sam “The Man” Watson (as Carpenter calls him), Southern Valley, Lewis Taylor Farms, and Minor Brother Farms.
“The response has been phenomenal,” said Carpenter.
In less than a week, they are up to $80,000 in sponsorships.
Volunteers are still rolling in and they are hoping to have 300 people to help during the event. If you are interested in volunteering, you can do so here.
For more information on the event, check out the Facebook Event.