Commissioner Gary Black of the Georgia Department of Agriculture mingling with members of the Buford-Lanier Woman’s Club after his speech on March 13, 2019.

Many Gwinnettians may not recognize how the Georgia Department of Agriculture impacts their lives each and every day.

Hardly limited to the farm to table process, the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) lends a hand in services ranging from pest control to food processing. The GDA has 14 departments including the Animal Industry, Food Safety, the Laboratory Division, and Licensing.

“Those are the types of things — there’s structure market control, market products, ensuring animal safety, work from commercial staples, pet rescue groups — all that is your Georgia Department of Agriculture. A little over 600 people work for us and work for you every day,” said GDA Commissioner Gary Black to a gathering at the Bu-ford-Lanier Woman’s Club meeting on Mar. 13, 2019.

“If you’re buying a New York strip steak or a Sirloin strip steak, that’s our plant inspectors at the producer level [putting those labels on the meat]. We’re also out here at Home Depot and Lowes at your local gardens. There will be somebody there at a random basis from the GDA making sure that it’s safe for us. We’re real close to your home in places that you maybe didn’t even know — we’re in everybody’s home that has some kind of pest control or termite control — that’s all regulated by us,” Commissioner Black added.

Once home to dozens of cattle ranches, Gwinnett has urbanized so that farms with rolling pastures are few and far between. But as Gary Black reminded the Buford-Lanier Woman’s Club, Gwinnett still plays a significant part in Ga.’s $73.4- billion agricultural industry.

“Y’all in Gwinnett, you’ve got one of the largest dairy processing plants really on earth at the Publix there on 316,” Commissioner Back said.

And Kroger, in Commissioner Black’s eyes, has been an unsung hero by supporting local farmers. As of Mar. 16, 2019, over 168 Kroger stores are participating in the “Milk Makes Amazing” promotion driven by Milk on my Mind, a dairy awareness program initiated by the Georgia Agriculture Commodity Commission for Milk.

“Each drop of milk that goes into a Kroger milk jug comes from a Georgia farm, but they never promoted it that way. They’re embracing our Georgia Grown branding that will launch this Saturday,” Commissioner Black said of the program that aims to educate consumers about the benefits and versatility of dairy foods.

The Kroger partnership is a born out of the larger Georgia Grown (#georgiagrown) project that has become popular by recent demand for healthier, locally grown food options. The Georgia Grown network encompasses businesses that sell non-pro-cessed, locally grown agricultural products as well as processed agricultural products if the key ingredient is grown in Georgia. Many farmers markets and grocery stores are part of the Georgia Grown community. Check the website to see which local businesses near you are part of the Georgia Grown network: www.georgiagrown.com.

“This whole thing is not a fad. It’s what we want as consumers, and if it comes from a Georgia farmer, you’re feeding a local business, and it feeds the local economy we’ve all been talking about,” Commissioner Black said.

As an entire state, the need to support local farmers is greater than ever due to the devastating toll Hurricane Michael took last fall. The damages were so extreme that Georgia’s place as one of the highest-ranking states for agriculture may be at jeopardy.

“Most people do not know that Michael was a category four hurricane when it entered Georgia. The South West corridor was devastated. Peanuts survived rather well; cotton, vegetables, timber, and pecan were ravaged resulting in a $2.5 billion loss to Georgia,” Commissioner Black said.

In later correspondence with the Gwinnett Citizen, he added, “Many consumers have asked ‘How can I help?’. The answer is always the same. Buy Georgia Grown. Visit Georgiagrown.com and do business with our members. Ask your retailer to carry as many Georgia Grown products as possible. That’s the best prescription for recovery of all.”

Before departing, Commissioner Black also mentioned that horticulture and landscaping are two prominent ways in which Gwinnett makes an impact in Georgia’s agricultural economy. In partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, The Gwinnett County UGA Extension Office offers educational programs in the areas of horticulture and agriculture, food safety and nutrition.

“And that’s a story worth telling!” Commissioner Black said of the horticultural industry in Gwinnett.

Carol Gibson, program coordinator the Buford-Lanier Woman’s Club,` invited Commissioner Black after meeting him through a BULLI Agritourism class at Brenau University. Of the meeting, she said, “He was a great speaker, and I was surprised to hear about Hurricane Michael and how the farmers need our prayers.”

The GDA is a public service and prides itself on providing polite and courteous service. Their goal is to set themselves apart, providing excellence in services and regulatory functions and to protect agriculture and consumer interests. Learn more at www.agr.georgia.gov.