December is the season for welcomes. Families welcome loved ones from near and far into their homes for fun, frolic and, hopefully, good food. Retailers welcome their highest profits of the calendar year as shoppers flood the stores from Black Friday all the way through the after-Christmas sales. Here in the South, winters are mild, but in December, we still welcome that touch of winter freeze and don our mittens, hats, gloves and coats. We welcome the beauty of colored lights, Christmas trees decked out in baubles and garlands, ornate wreaths and oversized Santa Clauses, reindeer and snowmen on front lawns. We can’t help staring as we drive by the spectacular white-lights display at Chick-Fil-A on Atlanta Highway that boldly welcomes the holiday season.
In the college town of Athens, December is also the season of goodbyes—at least for a little while. Goodbye to the Georgia Bulldogs football season, and what a season it was in 2017! Goodbye to the 30,000 UGA students as they go home for the holidays, leaving the local coffee houses and city streets of Athens suddenly less crowded. But the hardest goodbye of all is when the Athens Farmers Market goes on hiatus for the winter.
There are many local treasures in Athens, but my favorite by far is the Athens Farmers Market in Bishop Park. Every Saturday morning from April to December, I set my alarm for 7:30 so I can arrive early to nab the cream of the farmers’ crops. There is no question that the local farmers’ freshly picked fruits and vegetables taste better than anything you’ll find in the stores. And there’s that good karma that comes with supporting our local small farmers and businesses. Athens Farmers Market feels like a gathering of people from every part of our diverse community. You’d be hard-pressed to not run into someone you know, making the market feel that much more welcoming and vital to Athens. It symbolizes what unites us; it brings all of us closer together.
At the Athens Farmers Market, vendors and shoppers are happy to see one another. Every Saturday, Will of Pastures of Rose Creek welcomes me with a happy smile and a hug. His grass-fed beef burgers taste delicious grilled with garlic salt and black pepper. Lisa of Farmington Herbals makes the best facial toner and face cream I’ve ever tried. There will be no more lavender and chamomile bath bombs from Normal Soap Company for a while. Boy will I miss refilling my growlers with the fruity flavors of refreshing probiotic kombucha tea on tap at Golda Kombucha. And it sure won’t be the same without the farm-grown purple majestic sweet potatoes, fresh spinach and lettuce, habanero and jalapeño peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, blueberries, strawberries and so on, depending on the season of the year. Not to mention my cup of fresh-brewed 1000 Faces coffee as I stroll from table to table. Yep, Saturday mornings at the farmers market start off the whole weekend with a warm welcome.
Saying goodbye to the farmers market as they hibernate for the winter is always bittersweet, but there is comfort in knowing they will be back again the first Saturday of April, when I will eagerly welcome them with a big smile, a joyous hello, my canvas purse filled with $1 wooden chips and my empty woven basket ready to be filled up with purchased goodies and local treasures. Farewell, for now, Athens Farmers Market—until we meet again in the spring.