Organizations: Georgia Urban Agriculture Council
In addition to making many residents aware of where their water comes from and what a precious resource it is, the current drought has also aimed a spotlight on Georgia’s urban agriculture industry. Businesses involved in growing, installing and maintaining the greenery around our homes, shopping centers, business parks and so many other places have been hard hit by watering restrictions, and many are going under.
The Georgia Urban Agriculture Council (UAC) hopes to reverse that trend – or at least help change the rules to protect the industry in the future. Formed two years ago, the group is actually an umbrella organization representing six distinct associations from the urban agriculture industry – The Georgia Green Industry Association, The Metro Atlanta Landscape and Turf Association (MALTA), Georgia Turfgrass Association, Georgia Sod Producers Association, Coastal Landscape and Turf Professional Association and The Georgia Irrigation Association.
The organization is essentially an advocacy group representing its members’ interests in front of the legislature, and “directing members of our associations how to act and get their voice out,” says Executive Director Mary Kay Woodworth, who also heads up MALTA.
Topics of concern, Woodworth says, include “immigration, labor, regulatory issues concerning pesticides and, obviously, water.”
These days the group is lobbying for a reassessment of the state’s drought management efforts. Prior to the drought, urban agriculture was an $8 billion industry in Georgia, employing some 80,000 workers among some 7,000 companies. Outdoor watering restrictions, the UAC says, have led to 35,000 job cuts and a potential economic loss of $3.15 billion.
“When we went to Level 4 restrictions, which was the total outdoor ban, basically cutting off all water for homeowners to use, the retail business dried up literally overnight,” says Woodworth, who adds that the burden is falling heavily on the many mom and pop operations that make up this industry.
“It’s a great industry full of really great people,” Woodworth says. “We are really conservationists and good stewards. And that’s why we’re in this. Certainly it’s an industry where there is money to be made, there are profits to be made, just like any other. But what we’re doing is really beneficial to our environment and our lifestyle. Our goal is to take the opportunity we have right now, when we have this captive audience, and educate them about the right way to landscape.”