Last updated on August 16th, 2012 at 12:08 pm
Newton, Ga., may seem out of the way to many, but local farmer Cornelius Key and other members of the burgeoning Flint River Cooperative are helping plant it on the map as the birthplace of Glory Foods’ collard greens. Key is one of several African American growers to join the cooperative this year through work with the United States Department of Agriculture and its efforts to help provide opportunities to small, under resourced minority- and women-owned growers in the Southeast.
Key is one of a select group of farmers throughout the Southeast whose crops end up on grocery shelves and in discerning eaters’ shopping carts. He initially made his living growing vegetables and selling them at farmers’ markets in and around his hometown in southwest Georgia. Hoping to learn other techniques of farming that might increase his yields and allow him to sell his products outside the immediate vicinity, Key joined the Flint River Cooperative, a farmers’ co-op founded in 1999. Little did he know that this would be the first step toward placement of his crops in grocery stores nationwide.
Through his participation in the cooperative, Key met Ricky Dollison who oversees crop production on participating farms. Dollison shared with Key insights and knowledge on the art of growing greens, a Southern staple vegetable that Key dabbled in but had not yet mastered, as corn and peanuts were his main initial sellers.
“We’ve all got something to add to the co-op; we’ve all got something to bring to the table,” said Ricky Dollison. “That is what makes us strong.”
The co-op’s synergy has benefited Key greatly, as he has seen his collard green crop increase from half an acre to more than 30. His first full crop of collard greens, which he harvested in late 2011, yielded more than 200,000 lbs. Key and other Flint River members don’t merely share knowledge, but they pool their resources as well—making each of them richer in terms of labor, technique and equipment.
Here is where Glory Foods comes in. One of the directors of the Flint River Cooperative is Gibbs Patrick. Patrick, like Dollison, serves as a mentor to the co-op’s farmers. It is through Patrick that the Flint River Cooperative forged a partnership with Glory Foods, which brings locally sourced, fine Southern vegetables to grocery stores and family tables, just as company founder Bill Williams hoped.
“We have greatly benefited from participating in the Flint River co-op,” said Key. “We want to continue to grow collard greens through the co-op as long as we can continue to grow our relationship and produce a quality product for Glory Foods.”
“Local growers like Cornelius Key are so very important to what sets Glory Foods apart from other canned vegetable companies,” said Betty Williams, Bill Williams’ widow and member of Glory Foods’ Board of Directors. “The Flint River Cooperative is just one example of the partnerships we form that ensure the high quality of our products and make us a leading ambassador of Southern quality and taste.”
It is no wonder that Glory’s success comes so clearly from the success of individual minority farmers. The rich tradition behind so many Southern recipes is rooted in the ties that bind families together.
“We commend people like Cornelius Key, Ricky Dollison and Gibbs Patrick for their help in bringing locally sourced vegetables together with our seasoning blends to create products that the entire country enjoys,” said Dan Charna, Glory’s VP of operations. “We honor their commitment with our own, and pledge to always offer the best possible seasoned vegetables to the consumer. It is our pleasure to bring authentic Southern tastes to the table.”
Founded in 1989, Columbus, Ohio-based Glory Foods is a category leader in Southern-style, heat-and-serve products including seasoned canned vegetables, cooking bases, hot sauces and fresh greens. It is a private, minority-controlled business.