Those who care about what’s in their food, how it is grown and prepared, and the environment in general are gathering at the conference table in Columbus Friday and Saturday.
The 19th annual Georgia Organics Conference returns to the city — having been here in 2012 as well — for a mix of educational seminars, farm tours, a vendor expo and what is known as a Farmer’s Feast — a meal fit for a safe and healthy diet prepared by top chefs.
"We wanted to come to Columbus specifically for the growth that we’ve already seen in this movement in Columbus," said James Carr, communications coordinator with Georgia Organics, the Atlanta-based advocacy organization holding the conference at the Columbus Convention and Trad Center. "Obviously, there’s the farmer’s market. You have some great local restaurants who source locally nowadays. And folks on our staff who had been to the conference the last time in 2012 have all been raving about downtown Columbus and its transformation."
Area restaurants and food businesses scheduled to participate in the event include 11th and Bay, Meritage, Epic, JWT Catering and White Oak Pastures. The conference, with the exception of an expo reception 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, is sold out, Carr said. The reception is open to the public for a $10 charge.
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The conference overall is expected to be good for the city economically, with Peter Bowden, president and chief executive officer of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, projecting an impact of just over $160,000. The Marriott downtown is a hub hotel for the event, while the Courtyard Marriott, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express in Phenix City are listed as additional hotel space near the convention center.
You have some great local restaurants who source locally nowadays. And folks on our staff who had been to the conference the last time in 2012 have all been raving about downtown Columbus and its transformation."
James Carr, Georgia Organics communication coordinator, on why Columbus was chosen for the event
Carr said the financial number could be closer to $200,000, with the 900 or so conference attendees also spending money on other things, such as even more food and recreational activities.
"There’s a couple of organizations hosting board meetings at 11th and Bay. And the whitewater (outfitter) has offered our attendees a discounted rate of $30 for rafting trips, and some may take part in that," he said. "So we anticipate that number will go up with all of our attendees eating meals and buying drinks and that sort of thing."
The Georgia Organics Conference comes to the city with individuals and businesses moving more and more toward organic food production and consumption. The practice includes growing fruits and veggies that don’t use chemical fertilizers, and fostering conservation of both soil and water.
Carr said there were only a handful of farmer’s markets with organic food in Georgia a decade or so ago, with that number now approaching 200.
"So it’s really a statewide transition where people are definitely interested and wanting to know where their food is coming from and what has been done to it," he said.
There’s also the economic carrot of enjoying and supporting organically grown food, he said, which means it’s good for your health and the wallets of those providing the sustenance.
"We did a study a couple of years ago that showed if every household in Georgia spent $10 a week on local food, or food produced in Georgia, it would equal $1.9 billion in revenue for the state of Georgia," he said.
One special part of the event will be the speaking appearance of Joan Dye Gussow, an early adopter of the organic approach to growing and eating food, and an author of several books. One of them is "Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life and Vegetables."
"Hope is the lesson Nature keeps teaching me," Gussow writes in the November 2010 book. "She keeps producing. She recovers. She creates beauty out of loss. She forgives us our impatience and frustration and insistence that things turn out the way we planned."
The Georgia Organics Conference, which moves from city to city each year, will likely take place next year in Atlanta since the organization will be celebrating its 20th anniversary, Carr said. Last year, the event was held in Athens and in Jekyll Island on the coast the year before that. But he said the Columbus stop this year is important.
"We wanted to pay tribute to the resilience of the Columbus community that is seeing a regeneration," he said. "We thought that fit in very well with the agricultural resilience that we’re starting to see now with the strength of our organic farmers."