For the past six months, Chelsea has been working through transferring management of the Green Market in Milledgeville to a new board of directors and market manager. The Green Market has been her baby, started as a passion project in 2012. Since 2015, she has been the sole manager of the market - every email, advertisement, receipt, and credit card swipe passed through her hands. She has put countless hours into encouraging new vendors, collecting paperwork, researching regulations, printing flyers, swiping debit cards, handing out tokens, making those tokens exist in the first place, attending meetings, creating ads, writing newsletters, coordinating student volunteers, and a million other little tasks.
In November, thanks to a grant from Georgia Organics and help from the Georgia Farmers Market Association, she began to assemble a team of supporters to guide the market into a new era. The market is now governed by a board of directors who has hired a new part-time Market Manager, and there is an army of supporters doing the work she once did after Tripp went to bed every night. Letting go has been difficult, but the attendance at the April 7th Grand Opening was a great reminder that the work will continue and the market will thrive because of the hard work and support of board members, volunteers, and community members who believe in the Green Market as much as we do!
The transition of the market has given us time to reflect on how the middle Georgia good food movement has changed since we began Babe + Sage in 2011. When we moved back to middle Georgia to start Babe + Sage, we arrived at just the right moment. Our arrival coincided with the arrival or return of several other young farmers and local food supporters, and we suddenly had a critical mass to build a movement. Looking back on the first year, it all felt so new and fresh and magical. It was also, of course, incredibly difficult. We were all trying to build infrastructure, start farms and farmers markets, make people care about local food, fight back weeds and brush, and figure out how to actually make a living farming.
Several of those people have moved on to other things for various reasons. The more stubborn among us have stuck it out. Many others have arrived to grow the community. Local food in middle Georgia no longer feels like an insurgent movement but a fact of life. Restaurants like Dovetail and stores like Village Marketplace actually buy from local farms every week. People are making a living selling good food locally. Awareness of local food has become mainstream. The quality of everyone’s product (including our own) has increased dramatically. We’ve created the Middle Georgia Growers Cooperative, which is beginning to market and deliver produce from our middle Georgia farms to Atlanta. Our farms are gaining statewide and regional attention. Some of our farmers are flying to DC to lobby on behalf of farmers across the country. When we started the Farm Share in 2012, nearly all of our 20 members were personal friends. Today, strangers they are more likely to know about Babe + Sage Farm than Bobby and Chelsea.
We are incredibly proud of the growth we’ve been a part of since starting Babe + Sage in 2011: growth on the farm, in the local food system, and in the community as a whole. We still have a long way to go, but it amazes us to think back on how far we’ve come. It is with heavy hearts, then, that we announce this spring and summer will be our last at Babe + Sage Farm. Chelsea, Tripp, and I will be moving to my hometown of Rome, GA this fall to begin a new farm and food project. This has been the most difficult decision of our lives by far. This farm, this community, and, most importantly, these people (you) have become our home. Chelsea and I helped re-build this house and turn it into a home. We built the farm up from nothing. We were married under the pecan trees out our window, and many of you were there. Our son was born in Macon and came home to this farm. This spring has felt bittersweet as we’ve contemplated leaving behind our home and our community, but we are also excited and nervous about the journey we are about to embark on.
When we started Babe + Sage in 2011, we believed this farm would be our life’s work. We’ve since grown older, gotten married, had a child, and our lives have changed. These thirty beautiful acres felt like all we could ever want when we arrived here at age 23. With age, though, our priorities have shifted. As the farm has matured and we’ve gotten older, we’ve both felt the pull to pursue projects outside the farm. We’ve also realized that we prefer to live in town. We love working outside, but we miss living in town and being close to everything. We dreamt of a day when we could rent or buy a house in town and commute to the farm, but that does not seem financially feasible. We also want Tripp to go to good schools, be close to friends and activities, and spend less time riding in the car (his current preschool commute is over an hour each day). The biggest reason we are leaving, though, is to be closer to family. At 23 and 24 years old, we thought a two or three hour drive from our parents was as close as we would want to be. Now that we’re older and Tripp is growing up, we want to be closer to our parents and siblings. The move to Rome will put us in the same town as my parents and within an hour drive of my siblings, Chelsea’s parents, and Chelsea’s brothers.
We are still finalizing details, but we can offer some info about our new endeavor. Once in Rome, we will be partnering with South Rome Redevelopment Corporation to start a new urban farm in South Rome, a low-income neighborhood adjacent to downtown. The new farm will be smaller in acreage, rely more heavily on greenhouses and high tunnels, and focus on fewer high-profit crops. We will also be partnering with a nearby private school to build an educational farm that will supply their dining hall with produce. Finally, we will be working on several projects to increase access to fresh food throughout the South Rome neighborhood, hopefully including a storefront in the near future. This new project will bring us back to my hometown, closer to family, meet a lot of the creative goals that we’ve been missing at Babe + Sage, and allow us to live in town away from the farm. We would not be leaving if it did not check all those boxes.
So what does that mean for the future of the farm and the local food scene in middle Georgia? Obviously some of that remains up in the air, but we do have some details. The spring and summer Farm Share seasons will continue like normal. We will continue selling at the Green Market through July, and we will continue selling to restaurants and stores until we move. We are in the process of planning Farmer Prom, a reunion for former employees, and one final Farm Dinner with pizzas from the brick oven. Be on the lookout for details and tickets on our website and email list in the coming weeks.
The Oetter family who owns the farm property are committed to have the farm remain in production. Much of the infrastructure will remain on the property, making it a turnkey operation. Several former employees or friends of the farm are interested in leasing the farm and continuing to grow here when we leave, but nothing is confirmed yet. If none of those tenants work out, we plan to help the Oetters find a farmer to rent the farm who will be successful and carry on our work. If the right farmer with experience running a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) comes along, we will happily pass along our Farm Share subscribers and online ordering system. If the farmer who takes over the property does not want to do a CSA or Farm Share, we will work to find a CSA option for our loyal Farm Share members.
As for the other projects we’ve started or been involved with, those are all in good hands and the work of building the good food movement in middle Georgia will continue. The Green Market has a stellar board of directors, volunteers, and market manager who will continue to grow the Milledgeville farmers market. Julia Asherman at Rag & Frass Farm has devoted countless hours to getting the Middle Georgia Growers Co-op off the ground, and we expect it to be in a great position by the end of the year. The biggest void we will leave behind may be the simplest: a place to gather. So many connections, good ideas, and new projects have germinated and grown up here over the years simply by opening up our farm and home for people to get together. Those are some of the moments we are most proud of at Babe + Sage. We hope that tradition of opening up the farm to be a gathering place for people continues in middle Georgia.
This has been an incredibly difficult decision and announcement to make - very easily the most difficult of our lives. We love this farm and we love this place, but most of all we love these people reading this. We are filled with so many emotions right now - nervous, nostalgic, sad to be leaving, but also excited for what’s to come. We’re sad to be leaving this amazing community that drew us back to middle Georgia and has blossomed and grown more every year. But we are also excited to see what this new era has in store for us and for the local food scene in middle Georgia. The work will continue and grow in amazing ways here without us. There is an army of passionate farmers, customers, students, teachers, professionals, and other good food champions here in middle Georgia who will continue the work we feel so blessed to have been a part of. In 14 years when Tripp is a freshman at Georgia College, we can’t wait to see what the Green Market, the Mulberry Market, the Middle Georgia Growers Co-op, Village Marketplace, and the rest of the good food movement in middle Georgia has grown into.
So, as cliche as it sounds, this is not a goodbye but a “see you later.” Middle Georgia will always be a part of us, and we’ll return as visitors often and see many of you around the state in other capacities. We appreciate your support in helping us build this dream in this place for the past seven years, and we appreciate your support as we make this big transition. Thank you.
Bobby + Chelsea
We grow tasty veggies, bake bread, host farm events, manage a farmers market, raise an energetic little munchkin, cook, restore this farm property, read books, and try to bring more good food and good things to middle Georgia!