Farm to Garden Sale part of a wider mission

Farmers market fans love their fresh, local produce … and what’s fresher or more local than food grown in your own backyard? The organizers of East Lake Farmers Market know that the line is fine, indeed, between farmers and gardeners. Hence the Farm to Garden Sale.

This Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at ELF Market’s usual location—the corner of Second Avenue and Hosea Williams Drive—farmers and other vendors will sell the stuff you need to make your own garden grow. It’s a rare opportunity to get supplies and advice from the same pros who usually sell the finished product (food).

Look for soil mix and vegetable plant transplants from Oakleaf Mennonite Farm, compost and plants from Oakhurst Community Garden, worm castings and potted herbs from Native Sun Farm, vegetable transplants from Ivabell Acres, beneficial flowers from Garden Hood, shiitake mushroom logs and bedding plants from Love is Love Farm.

“Many consumers want to grow their own food,” explains Lou Linzie, who started pitching the idea shortly after becoming the market manager in January. “I hope this event would connect gardeners and farmers, and farmers would look at their consumers a little different, and consumers would look at their farmers a little different.” The sale is the perfect conversation-starter, she says, for gardeners to ask farmers “what they use for potting soil and how they compost, and what their process is for planting, and how to get a better tomato and whatever else.”

It’s also an opportunity for vendors to generate  income before most markets (including ELF) officially open for the season, and for ELF to host a few vendors who are generally committed to other Saturday morning markets. Everybody wins.

Even if you don’t garden, there are plenty of reasons to visit the Farm to Garden Sale this weekend. In addition to worm castings and compost, vendors will also be selling typcial farmers market fare: fresh produce, baked goods, coffee, pottery, skin-care products, frozen fruit pops.

ELF Market itself is worth checking out, too, because it is quickly moving beyond its reputation as a scrappy little neighborhood affair and evolving into an epicenter for creative community projects focused on nutrition and health. As an individual entity, the East Lake Farmers Market recently earned nonprofit tax status, enabling it to apply for grants and funding without having to partner with another 501(c)(3) organization. Charitable donations to the market are now tax-deductible, as well.

Other area markets have partnered with nonprofit organizations, but ELF Market is likely the only farmers market in the state—and one of just a handful in the nation—to earn nonprofit tax status on its own.

Since its founding in 2009, the market’s mission has grown beyond simply displacing neighborhood drug activity, says co-founder and board president Doug Williams. “We see the market as a means to an end, which is the larger purpose of building community and changing health outcomes,” he says, noting the East Lake neighborhood’s unusually high rates of heart disease and diabetes.

The market already accepts SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) cards and partners with Wholesome Wave, an organization that uses donations to double the value of SNAP benefits and nutrition assistance coupons at farmers markets. This year it will also coordinate CSA programs among its farmers—and qualified consumers can use SNAP benefits and Wholesome Wave contributions to pay for the weekly pickup of farm-fresh food.

“If we can change health outcomes, that’s a much larger impact on the community than we had originally been thinking about,” Williams says.

P.S., help a farmer in need:
Greenleaf Farms was scheduled to participate in ELF Market’s Farm to Garden Sale this Saturday, but that may change due to farmer Greg Brown’s ongoing health problems. Crop Mob Atlanta has organized an online fundraiser to offset his medical bills. You can chip in here.