VALDOSTA -- A few miles just outside the city of Lake Park, through thick country woods separated by dirt roads, is the Coggins Family Farm, right in the midst of Echols County, the new Carrot Capital of the South.

More than 150 people attended a ceremony Monday at the Coggins Family Farm's Carrot building, as State Rep. Ellis Black declared Echols County the new Carrot Capital of the South.

In a resolution adopted by the State House of Representatives in March, Black proposed that Echols County and the Lake Park area of Lowndes County be commended for the valuable contributions they are making to the economy and well-being of the state through mass production and processing of carrots.

The crowd inside the large processing warehouse all varied, ranging from suited business men and women of the Echols County Board of Commissioners, to farmers in plaid shirts and overalls looking over the fresh vegetables on display. Sheriff Randy Courson and deputies and some students from Echols County High School attended the ceremony.

With a population of only 3,754, Echols County's production of more than 140 million pounds of carrots yearly places Georgia as the leading state in the Southeast and second in the nation, following only behind California.

Black believes the county's new title will bring more acclaim to the county as well as bring more people into the area which he said is steadily growing. "In the latest census reports, Echols exceed the state average in growth," Black said.

Carrot production in the area has grown tremendously over the last five years, which Black says contributed to a 57 percent increase in farm land in Echols County, a 65 percent increase in average farm size, a 350 percent increase in market gate value, and a 373 percent increase in market value per farm.

There are already five carrot packaging plants in Echols County. Edwin Coggins, an Echols County native and 58-year farmer with the Coggins Family Farm, believes that carrot trade along the East Coast will increase even more now that Echols County has been named the South's carrot capital.

"This is a great thing because first of all, people must know that it's not that easy to sell carrots. I believe Harry Scheaffer and Steve Sterling, the sales representatives of Market 29 Produce here in Echols have helped tremendously in getting us this honor by actually selling the carrots we produce," Coggins said.

Many of the community members hope that the honor will bring a spotlight to the county, as well as growth. Miss Echols County Amanda Young, 16, said, "Being named the carrot capital is interesting because it shows that there is more to the county. It's an attraction."

South Regional Joint Development Authority Executive Director Jerome Tucker believe that this is an excellent opportunity for job growth and development in the area and look forward to future industrial growth.

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