One of the most positive trends in Athens is the thriving appreciation of locally grown and prepared food and local artisan-made goods. The Athens Farmers Market is in its eighth season, and the West Broad Farmers Market Garden has succeeded as Athens’ first community-based urban farm, providing access to fresh food that its neighbors may not have otherwise. And now there’s a newcomer in town. On May 17, the Sunday Center Market hosted its grand opening in the brand new Classic Center Pavilion on Foundry Street.
While loyal customers of the two established markets may fear that a third option poses a threat to their Saturday shopping experience, rest assured that each market offers something different, and in conjunction they contribute to a dynamic economy for all of Athens.
Athens Farmers Market set the standard in this town. As the name suggests, it’s mostly farmers selling their goods at this market, although there are several options to buy prepared foods or artisan-made goods. Sustainability is the chief concern for the AFM. All the produce vendors here are Certified Naturally Grown; the meat, egg and dairy producers are working towards Certified Naturally Grown standards (at the very least they’re pastured, non-medicated, etc.), and food purveyors follow a sourcing hierarchy that dictates local first, organic second and regional third. All of the craft vendors are from the local area, too.
“We’re local, we’re producer-only, and we’re sustainable,” says Jan Kozak, AFM manager. “Those three tenets have guided us since we started… In a lot of ways, not compromising has been difficult, because it’s meant being perceived as exclusive, but really what we’re keeping in mind when we work is that folks have come to expect this from us… They don’t have to worry about reading the label or doing any research into where the product came from—they trust that we have done that work for them, and we take that mission very seriously.”
The West Broad market offers an open door for growers and businesses that would not be quite developed enough to sell at the Athens Farmers Market. It’s an incubator and a gateway for consumers and vendors alike—intended to get good food in the hands of people who might not otherwise have it, and to give new startup vendors the chance to sell what they grow or make.
Education is also a top priority at the West Broad market. Children and adults alike can learn how to incorporate healthy food for a better life; vendors can learn how to grow a business, and shopping here means supporting these initiatives.
Here you’ll find hot food prepared by neighborhood celebrities such as Ms. Ethel and goods from local artisans and craftspeople who are newer to the scene, and although there are fewer growers than at other markets, much of the produce that is sold can be seen growing on-site in the market garden.
“It’s allowing people a place to come and buy food, but also teaching them how that food can change various aspects of their lives, and trying to kind of make it a very holistic experience for them,” says Heather Benham, executive director of the Athens Land Trust.
At the Classic Center, the grand opening of the Sunday Center Market was promising. Chalk artists drew elaborate sidewalk murals to benefit the Athens Council on Aging and Colors of Connection. There were bands and ice skating. Vendors offered everything from locally printed T-shirts to locally produced honey. People perused food carts and artisan booths, a documentary was screened, and kids jumped around in a bouncy house. A man juggled, and a young girl on stilts greeted people with balloons.
“We believe that we are offering a unique experience for a Sunday afternoon in Athens,” says Danny Bryant, the arena and pavilion services manager at The Classic Center. “While we certainly want the community to shop and support our local artisans, crafters and growers, we want to also be a place a family can come be entertained for an afternoon by ‘window’ shopping, chatting with our great vendors, playing in the bouncy house, enjoying the musical entertainment and cooling off in the shaded pavilion.”
The good news is there’s no need to choose favorites. We should rally around all three market options.
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