Trying to eliminate costs wherever they can, legislators now have the entire voluptuous body of Georgia agriculture on the table, knife raised ready to cut off a hoof, an ear, the curlicue end of the tail. On the chopping block now could be the venerable Market Bulletin–the twice-monthly newspaper of the Department of Agriculture reaching 130,000 households.
While the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article makes the publication seem cutely antiquated, the Market Bulletin hardly resembles something fusty and out-of-date. Rather, it’s a lively exchange of goods and services for an untold number of entrepreneurs, modern farmers and devotees of agrarian folkways. Tractors, implements, livestock, bee-keeping equipment–one can find anything and everything.
In Wild Card Quilt: Taking a Chance on Home, Janisse Ray enumerates the classified categories as though they’re a kind of simple poetry: “farm machinery; bees, honey and supplies; ag seed for sale; flowers for sale; farm employment; feed, hay, and grain; rabbits; fertilizers and mulches; fish and supplies.”
Under “oddities,” someone will be selling gourds, lucky buckeyes, homemade lye soap, several large black walnut trees. Under “alternative livestock,” a more recent category, you’ll find halter-trained llamas, emus (very tame), female ostrich, pure elk. In the category “poultry/fowl for sale,” you can buy guineas and ducks and geese and peacocks and quail and pigeons and swans. And, oh my, the breeds of chicken: leghorn, Araucana, bantam, Dominique, Brahma, Rhode Island Red.
Last year, in addition to seeds of marigolds and nasturtiums, I bought a heap of the most wonderful pepper seeds through the Market Bulletin. Corno di toro, or horn of the bull: a sweet red pepper as long as my hand, if not longer, very much in the shape of its name. This prolific Italian heirloom was perhaps my favorite crop last year, as it was so generous and I knew so little of what to expect.
If the Market Bulletin is old-fashioned, it’s because there’s a genuine sense of trust held by the folks who use it. My pepper seeds came from Ms. Watts in Monroe. I put one dollar along with an SASE in an envelope per the instructions in her ad and sent it off. A week later 50 seeds arrived in the mail. How much better would it have been even had I driven to Ms. Watts’ home to see her garden and pick them up in person? I’m sure she would have welcomed me happily.
If there’s good news here, no one’s serious about killing the publication completely, although some have suggested maintaining it only online. As it stands now, the Market Bulletin is free. Understanding the need for the state to cut costs in a very trying time, its readers, myself included, would happily pay a subscription fee to keep the Market Bulletin alive. But no lawmaker should consider anything more, which would deprive Georgians of a vital marketplace and a cherished tradition–according to editor Carlton Moore, at one time the only printed material in many homes besides the Bible.
Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin thinks those in the statehouse in Atlanta, based on past experiences, should know better than to entertain thoughts of ending the Market Bulletin’s 93-year run.
“Jimmy Carter tried that, and it bit him real hard,” Irvin said, with a big grin.
Simply put, the Market Bulletin is helping to keep small farmers in Georgia alive. And that’s why I’m behind it. As Ray says in Wild Card Quilt:
Look around and you see agrarian lifestyles disappearing. Subsistence farmers are dying of old age, and their children are piddling around the farm, keeping a herd of cows or putting an acre into blueberries, gentleman and gentlewoman farmers who tend land in their spare time because they enjoy it; many are giving up all semblance of farming and are selling out.
If you were to read the Market Bulletin, however, you would never know any of that.