Atlanta: Cracking farm-to-table’s chicken-and-egg situation

By Patty Cantrell, Regional Food Solutions LLC

Susan Pavlin is in the business of building larger-scale market channels for smaller farms’ products. She directs Atlanta-based startup The Common Market Georgia, which aims to replicate the success that its parent The Common Markethas had in the Mid-Atlantic region. Its operations there are self-sustaining, with more than $11 million worth of local food sold since 2008 to schools, hospitals, and corporate campuses.

How is it going in Atlanta? The metropolitan area mirrors in many ways what is happening, and not happening, in local food markets nationwide.

Immigrant and other beginning farmers are working cooperatively now through Atlanta's Global Growers Network to produce food for wholesale markets. Credit: Jessica McGowan

“We are in that chicken-and-egg place right now,” Pavlin said of The Common Market Georgia’s 2016 beginnings. “Farmers don’t want to commit to more production unless they know they have a secure market. Buyers don’t want to commit to purchasing until they know the supply is out there.”

It’s the perfect place for The Common Market Georgia to be, she said. “We have the agility and the skill set to bring that supply and demand together.”

If successful, The Common Market Georgia’s larger volume sales — projected to reach $1.6 million in 2018 — could help crack another chicken-and-egg situation. That is local food’s promise to help Atlanta build stronger urban and rural places.

This promise is at the root of strong consumer and social investor interest in the emerging local food sector. It’s also at the root of local food’s strategic importance to Atlanta and other metropolitan areas nationwide.