Gary Black

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black spoke last week to Rotarians about the state of agriculture in Georgia, but began his talk by showing a picture of his 5-week old grandchild. Yes, that’s what is really important — people — and as a proud grandfather, Mr. Black started by showing the “good stuff” before giving an update on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Georgia agriculture.

He shared that although a bipartisan relief plan for Georgia farmers came out in 2019, it was finally passed in 2020, despite the pandemic. The plan appropriated $347 million for Georgia farmers, but because of the pandemic’s effect on associated businesses, farmers could only use $17 million of it. Not only did it seem that the pandemic had it in for farmers, but a hurricane took out Georgia’s record cotton crop. Before that, Hurricane Michael had caused Georgia to lose 28,000 acres of pecan trees. But Georgia rebounded last year with a good pecan crop — a crop without a market because of the pandemic. The good news was that Georgia farmers had developed a new brand of citrus called Besties and had begun working closely with big box stores and their markets. But, in March, that market, too, dried up because the Covid monster caused the closing of restaurants. Cows were still producing milk, but farmers couldn’t get their dairy product to grocery stores or even food banks because of shortages in packaging.

But Georgians, as Georgians will, found a way to use some of the products for the good of the people. A mayor in the Atlanta area called Mr. Black and asked for permission to hold a drive through farmer’s market. And the idea grew to surrounding areas. The market workers sold mixed boxes of produce moving millions of dollars of food to the people and helping farmers at the same time.

Mr. Black closed by reminding Rotarians of three things that Benjamin Franklin espoused during the forming of the Constitution. He first reminded the founding fathers that the project would certainly be confounded without the Lord. Then after the Constitution was ratified, Mr. Franklin stated that the new government would always be either rising or setting. A third time the wise leader showed his wisdom came when a woman stopped him leaving the building where the United States’ Constitution was birthed. The woman asked, “Mr. Franklin, do we have an empire or a republic?” The statesman replied, “We have a republic, if we can keep it.”

Ellen Cowne provides news from the Rotary Club of Madison County.

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