BY LORAYNE BRYAN
PHOTOS BY SARA CRAIG-GOODELL & DEREK TUBBS
Increasingly, in most of Atlanta’s finest restaurants diners enjoy cuisine that chefs create using the freshest, most flavorful ingredients: locally harvested fruits and vegetables, fresh-baked breads and locally raised meats. At award-winning Restaurant Eugene on Peachtree Road in Atlanta, these goods are provided by farmers, artisans and purveyors who are on a first-name basis with owner and executive chef Linton Hopkins. This James Beard Award–winning chef has forged relationships with the people who work the land and raise the beautiful livestock, and the respect that he has for the delicious ingredients they provide is a cornerstone of his culinary expertise.
His creative use of seasonal fare melded with his sophisticated nod to local tradition transports diners from a contemporary urban setting to the lush farm tables of a bygone era that were spread with made-fromscratch, delectable delights. His fried chicken based on an authentic circa-1824 recipe garnered him much national recognition.
“Better ingredients make you a better chef,” Hopkins says. “It’s important to know where your food comes from and to shorten the time from when it is harvested to when it is served. Locally harvested food just tastes better. And the diversity of locally raised food—like heirloom tomatoes and heritage meats—gives you so much more to work with.”
His support of local farmers and artisans extends beyond the kitchen doors of Restaurant Eugene and the other popular eatery, Holeman & Finch Public House, which he owns with his wife, Gina Hopkins, a talented sommelier. A down-to-earth duo with a reputation for pushing up their sleeves to support local food causes, they joined with The Cathedral of St. Philip and founded the Peachtree Road Farmers Market in 2007.
“Gina and I were looking for a central location where our farmers could have a weekly market and the Cathedral, located near the center of Buckhead, had both the space and the desire to bring the community together around local food.”
Chef Hopkins advises that you don’t have to change your whole diet to reap the benefits of eating locally grown food. “Just go to your local market on Saturday and buy some fresh produce for cooking just one meal a week. It’s a great opportunity to engage with your community and enjoy the pulse of the market—get a cup of coffee and a homemade pastry, talk to the farmers, pick up some fresh vegetables or fresh eggs—it just makes you feel good.”
Now in its seventh year, the Peachtree Road Farmers Market is the largest producer-only market in Georgia and has become a model for markets across the state. This market, which will be open through December 14, hosts 50 vendors weekly, all carefully vetted, and has scheduled more than 35 chef demonstrations for this year.
The market was one of the first in the state to accept and double the value of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/EBT) food stamps. That is no coincidence, because the Hopkinses were the founding force behind Georgia’s Wholesome Wave chapter, an organization that strives to make healthy food more accessible to everyone.
Founded by Gina Hopkins and current president Judith Winfrey in 2009, the Wholesome Wave Georgia (WWG) program is very simple: Every nutrition benefit dollar—from SNAP; Women, Infants and Children (WIC) or Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP)—spent at a WWG partner market becomes two dollars for the shopper and for the farmer. This means that more Georgians gain access to wholesome and locally grown food, and local farmers will make more money.
“At Wholesome Wave Georgia, we believe that everyone should have access to good, wholesome and locally grown food. Our goal is to increase access to good food for all Georgians while contributing to the local food economy. By doubling each federal or state nutrition benefit dollar spent at our partner markets, we leverage existing government food nutrition programs to encourage shopping at local farmers markets,” explains Jan Kozak, WWG program director. “This program creates a positive impact socially, environmentally and economically as well as improving the health of the food stamp participants.”
In 2009, WWG began with three markets in the state and strategically added qualified, producer-only markets each year to meet the growing demand. This year, WWG will work with 21 markets.
“Our markets now stretch from Metro Atlanta to Rock Spring to Tifton to Savannah. Our geographical growth has been made possible by the continued financial support of Wholesome Wave nationally, private donations and the amazing support of our local partners,” Kozak says. Along with the growth in the number of participating markets, WWG has experienced significant financial growth over the past seasons.
“In the inaugural 2009 season, our three partner markets doubled the value of $3,000 to $6,000. For the 2013 season, we are budgeting for $168,000 in incentives, for a total of $336,000 in purchases for our shoppers and business for farmers across the state.”
Most of the budgeted funds for Wholesome Wave Georgia’s program will come from an annual fundraiser, Southern Chefs Potluck, a family-style dinner on the grounds of Serenbe featuring dishes from many of the South’s favorite chefs. Hopkins will be among the featured chefs.
“It’s all about sharing good food with as many people as possible,” he says. “I am a father and an Atlantan. I believe in thinking globally and acting locally. I want my kids to grow up in a world where everyone has access to good food.”
DINE WITH THE SOUTH’S FINEST AND MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Some of the South’s favorite chefs are getting out of the kitchen and into the country for the fourth annual Southern Chefs Potluck at Serenbe, a casual Sunday supper benefiting Wholesome Wave Georgia on Sunday, September 8. Guests can enjoy dishes prepared by the featured chefs and dine family style with the chefs and their families on the pastoral grounds of Serenbe. This is the largest scheduled fundraiser for Wholesome Wave Georgia. For more information, visit wholesomewavegeorgia.org.
Lorayne Bryan is a longtime local freelance writer/editor and newbie farmer wannabe. For more info visit lorriebryan.com.