Valdosta Daily Times

March 23, 2013

Home Grown: Farmers share how their gardens grow

Caitlin Barker
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — “It teaches the community to come out and learn about healthy choices and local produce,” said Traci Gosier, health promotion coordinator for the South Health District.

A Lunch and Learn event was held Thursday afternoon at the Valdosta City Hall Annex on North Lee Street, featuring dishes prepared with locally grown ingredients from farmers across the Valdosta area.

Supported by the Lowndes County Partnership for Health and the South Health District, Lunch and Learn is intended to inform the community about the nutritional benefits of growing your own produce.

Created in 2011 by Diane Howard, Lunch and Learn began as a part of the ConAgra Foods Foundation to fight hunger, where youth leaders would help her prepare healthy dishes.

“When we started Lunch and Learn, I was the cook for 60 to 70 people,” Howard said. “Our main focus is to educate our local people about what is available locally in our agricultural community.”

Howard is a volunteer in the agricultural community, making it her priority to take care of and nourish various gardens in the area.

“From churches to community centers, I do it all,” Howard said. “I run the gardens and teach people to grow their own things.”

Howard’s green thumb is one of the many reasons why this Lunch and Learn was so successful. It featured delicious and healthy ingredients from a few local farmers, a guest speaker and a team culinary artists from Wiregrass Georgia Technical College.

“I want people to be aware of local growing, that’s what it’s all about,” Howard said. “Teach people to grow their own gardens. That it’s easy, you can do it.”

Special guest Teresa LeRoy attended on behalf of the Dixie Egg Company, one of the many producers of Eggland’s Best Eggs, which was a part of the “Spring Egg-stravaganza” theme of the event.

LeRoy discussed the quality of Eggland’s Best, types of chickens used, feed they are given, the difference between free-range and organic and why people prefer Eggland’s Best over generic eggs in general.

“Eggland’s Best have 45 days of shelf life, generic only have 30,” LeRoy said. “A chicken lays an egg every 24 hours and are branded with the EB stamp to ensure the customer of the quality. We have large, extra large, jumbo, cage-free and organic.”

Local farmers that were honored at the event for their generous supply of fresh produce were Thelma Hargett and Tony Mallory. Hargett gathered around 25 pounds of turnips from her farm, which she helped pick and wash along with Diane Howard. Mallory donated a spring mix of hydroponic lettuce, harvested on March 19, which was later used for the salad during the luncheon.

Wiregrass Technical culinary instructor Richard Van Hook cooked these ingredients with his staff of students.

“I’ve used local ingredients before. I always know where it comes from,” Van Hook said. “The farmers, that’s what they are doing, rise and shine, all we have to do is cook it.”

Van Hook and his team were overwhelmed by the generosity expressed as they prepared for the Lunch and Learn Event.  

“This year, we were supplied with eggs, turnips, carrots, cabbage and scallions,” Van Hook said. “Onions were my favorite to work with and the turnips were delicious. You could eat them like an apple.”

Some of Van Hook’s delicious dishes included pickled eggs, which he spent 24 hours preparing, deviled eggs with a red cabbage slaw, springtime vegetable hash, abundant with Hargett’s turnip root, Mallory’s Swiss chard, as well as Hargett’s fresh carrots and scallions. The leaves of Hargett’s turnips were also prepared in a ham-hock broth, with Mallory’s spring mix used for the side salad, which was tossed in a key lime vinaigrette.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better class to do this,” Van Hook said. “It was their first time in the kitchen.”

Jeff Morgan introduced his Chicken Tractor, a unique device he constructed out of wire, PVC pipe and loose items he randomly collected.

Morgan created the tractor after an experience he encountered in Peru, where the chickens would free range and lay their eggs in various locations. This device was intended to keep the chickens in a remote location, designating their eggs to one specific area.

“Spent around $10 making it. They just started laying,” Morgan said. “I am doing it for fun but to also teach people they can do it.”

As healthy knowledge and delicious meals were passed around the annex of City Hall, Lowndes County Partnership for Health Executive Director John Sparks took pride in educating the public through his nonprofit organization.

“Our mission is to improve the health in the environment,” Sparks said. “You just never know how much communication can reach out, to give people the opportunity to sample.”

Lunch and Learn will not come around again until next year, however, Downtown Valdosta’s Farm Days, will return 9 a.m.-1 p.m., May 4, the historic Lowndes County Courthouse Square.

 Farm Days showcase locally sourced produce, food items, as well as arts and crafts from neighboring areas. They currently have 11 vendors involved and encourage any local farmer to come out and participate.

It will be held on the first and third Saturday of every month, beginning in May. During June, it will be held on every Saturday for that month only. For more information on Farm Days, please visit