Farmers markets are popping up across Georgia. And as the summer harvest nears, they’ll be offering fresh produce and a chance for patrons to get to know the local farmers who grow their food.

The Riverside Farmers Market in Roswell, Ga., will open for its fourth season on May 14. It draws more than 1,000 people each Saturday morning to shop and listen to live music, said Louise Estabrook, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agent in Fulton County and manager of the market.

“It's the place to be, where farmers and consumers meet face to face and everyone is the better for it," she said.

All of the more than 50 vendors at the market only sell Georgia products. The market, which now accepts EBT cards, served 26,000 patrons last year, she said. Besides farmers selling produce, meats, honey, flowers, nursery plants and eggs, there are bakers and salsa vendors as well as others with prepared foods.

“We have 140 farmers markets in the state registered on Georgia Marketmaker,” said Kent Wolfe, director of the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development. “These markets benefit everybody — not just the farmers and consumers, but the local businesses as well.”

Marketmaker does not include the 12 state farmers markets found in Atlanta, Augusta, Macon, Savannah, Thomasville, Cairo, Cordele, Glennville, Jesup, Moultrie and Valdosta.

Markets across the state are looking to provide access to all citizens. According to Wolfe, the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program is available in 65 markets statewide. The program equated to nearly $1 million in FMNP funds used to purchase Georgia-grown fruits and vegetables in 2009. A similar program for seniors will serve an estimated 11,000 Georgians this year, supplying $250,000 in fresh, local foods.

The Athens Farmers Market is already open for the year. The producer-only market offers fresh produce from local growers. Amanda Tedrow, UGA Extension agent in Athens-Clarke County, helps organize the market.

A lot of interaction

“The market is a great way for the consumers to interact with the farmers directly,” Tedrow said. “They learn about products they may not be familiar with, like kohlrabi, and learn new recipes.”

Local chefs offer weekly cooking demonstrations featuring foods available at the market. UGA-trained Master Gardeners are on hand to answer questions ranging from composting to canning.

“People are looking for home-grown, local foods,” said Ronnie Barrentine, UGA Extension agent in Pulaski County, which is located in middle Georgia. “The problem is not that we don’t have the demand. It is having the amount of produce.”

Barrentine started a market in downtown Hawkinsville on Saturdays in the summer, a trend that began in 2004. Plans are to open daily soon. Before this market, growers traveled to markets in Cordele or Macon to sell their goods.

When the Henry County Farmers Market opened in 2009 in south metro Atlanta, UGA Extension agent Frank Hancock didn’t know what to expect. The first day, 50 people were lined up waiting for the market to start.

“Everybody likes the market,” Hancock said. “We are focused on our goal of providing our farmers with a place to sell their goods and local citizens a place to buy fresh produce. Our market is growing.”

The market sells produce grown within a 50-mile radius of the county, all freshly picked. Vendors also offer freshly baked breads, homemade jellies, ice cream and salsas. Fresh flowers are available, too. A couple hundred people stop in to purchase goods on Thursday afternoons.

Susan Howington, UGA Extension coordinator in Henry County, also conducts cooking demonstrations and food preservation classes at the Henry County market.

“The local people here in Henry County are benefiting and so are our local farmers because we are keeping it right here in our community,” Howington said.

To find a farmers market near you, visit www.pickyourown.org/GAfarmersmarkets.htm or www.localharvest.org.