Staff Photos: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
Brady Bala, founder of Conyers Locally Grown food coop, holds a 5-week-old piglet he is raising on Double B Farm in Newton County.
COVINGTON -- Newton County resident Brady Bala weeds Double B Farm the old fashioned way -- by hand, with a bucket and hoe. He grows seasonal vegetables and mushrooms, tends beehives for honey, and raises chickens and pigs for eggs and meat.
Bala is one of several growers who contribute to the Conyers Locally Grown food co-op he helped establish. Food sold through the co-op is local, grown less than 40 miles away, and no synthetic fertilizer or pesticides are used, nor is the food genetically modified.
"That's what I would like to eat, that's kind of why I do it because I'm feeding my own family," said Bala, who lives at the farm with his wife and three school-age children.
"I would rather eat something, whether it's a chicken or tomatoes, that was grown through a natural process," he said.
Conyers Locally Grown food co-op is a concept where traditional farming meets modern technology -- through the Internet. On Sunday evenings, registered customers receive an email listing on available products, and they place their orders by email or online at www.conyerslocallygrown.net by Tuesday at 8 p.m.
Farmers harvest what is ordered and the customer picks it up each week on Friday between 5 and 7 p.m. at Copy Central, 1264 Parker Road in Conyers, near the former Maxell building.
Customers don't have to order each week.
"You can order as much or as little as you like," Bala said.
A Rockdale County native who graduated from Heritage High School in 1989, Bala didn't grow up on a farm. He credits the Rockdale County Master Gardener program with enlightening him on good growing practices.
Bala first started selling his produce through the Athens Locally Grown co-op. He drove out to Athens once a week and made his deliveries.
"I thought, 'Gee, those people in Athens got something good, we deserve something good, too,'" Bala said. "I basically decided to bring the service to Conyers."
Bala established Conyers Locally Grown in March 2007. Business isn't booming, but he does maintain a steady customer base. The cost to join the co-op is $25 per year, but customers are welcome to try it out a few times before joining.
"We always have new customers coming on, and I've had some of the same customers the entire time," Bala said.
The co-op is supported by about 30 farmers, and currently about 12 have their products listed because the heavy harvesting season hasn't started yet. This week, about 225 items are on the site, everything from carrots and collards to turkeys and chickens. Baked goods, jams, jellies, eggs and milk, all grown and processed by local farmers, are also available.
For the first time this year, Bala put pig halves, about 75 pounds of meat, for sale on the site.
"I made 12 halves available and they were gone within 10 days," Bala said.
Bala said the meat and produce are more expensive than grocery store prices, but the quality of products, certified organic and certified naturally grown, are worth it. Plus, the money spent on the food stays in the community, he said.
"We don't sell the cheapest produce in town, but we as growers feel we are selling some of the better produce in town," he said.
Conyers Locally Grown features products from farms located in cities such as Conyers, Oxford, Loganville, Mansfield, Snellville, Athens, Madison, Decatur and Newborn.
"When people talk about wanting to reduce their carbon footprint, this is the kind of way to do it because nothing is traveling more than about 35 miles," Bala said.
Bala said Conyers Locally Grown is one of several hundred Locally Grown co-ops throughout the United States.
"I've always looked at it like this: If you're buying a product and you don't know where it came from, you have no idea what it actually is. If you go to the grocery store and you buy chicken and you don't know the background, you have no idea what you're getting. You have to take the word of the package," Bala said.
"With Conyers Locally Grown, you can drive out to Johnston Dairy Farm (in Newborn, Newton County), you can see the cow as she gets milked, you get to see all that stuff happen, you can even pick your own vegetables if you want, at a place like TaylOrganic (in Ellenwood, Henry County). This allows the customers access to where their food comes from."
For more information, visit www.conyers.locallygrown.net or call Brady Bala at 404-456-4333.