Photo Credit: Savannah Cole
Once strictly a warm-weather phenomenon that evokes the high spirits of old-time harvest festivals, farmers markets across the country and as far north as Bozeman, MT have begun serving their communities through the winter months. The demand for specialty meats, eggs, produce and other products seems to continue even as the winter chill sets in. With Athens’ mostly mild winters and its enthusiastic support for local producers, the stage was set for a new market to open.
As the successful Athens Farmers Market and West Broad Market Garden closed for the season in December, vendors of meats, eggs, tea and baked goods encouraged local chef Rashe Malcolm to open up a new market in Athens for the winter months. As Malcolm remembers it, she was on the phone in December with one of these vendors at the Jittery Joe’s Roasting Co. on Barber Street when manager Stephen Price overheard her conversation and suggested that she consider the facility’s parking lot as a location for a new market. She looked around, made a deal with Price, and the market began to take shape almost immediately.
Malcolm is a larger-than-life personality who has a natural talent for attracting people to her causes. A fixture at the West Broad market, she is a chef, caterer, food-truck owner and former owner of the Jamaican restaurant Rashe’s Cuisine, and has served as mentor to neophyte farmers-market vendors.
Malcolm saw that holding a winter market on Saturdays could help achieve her dream of opening up a community commercial kitchen—as reported in last week’s Flagpole—and that a new market would help her build productive new relationships. She reached out to the markets that were closing for the season and asked for their support, which they freely offered by way of sponsorships, and she discovered that many vendors were eager to extend their sales into the otherwise dormant season. Bakers, cattle producers, chicken farmers and almost 30 other vendors signed on to participate in what she began to call the Winter Community Market. While not strictly a farmers market in that produce growers do not participate, Malcolm’s market still has a lot to offer.
The project has been a success from the beginning. Opening Jan. 5 at the winter-friendly hour of 11 a.m., more than 300 people showed up to buy Kneading to Bake’s toothsome cinnamon rolls and pizza crusts, Pastures of Rose Creek’s tender, heart-healthy steaks and chops from Italian Piedmontese cattle, VTasteCakes’ famous vegan cupcakes, Oscar Bites’ home-baked dog treats and more.
“People in Athens want to know where their products are coming from,” Malcolm says. “They want to look at their producers in the eye. One of the beauties of the market is that people like to know that they can feel, touch and relate to a [producer]. Here in Athens, we like to support local companies.”
At first, vendors were hedging their commitment to the new market, but even those sellers who said they would rent a space a couple of times during the season have begun arriving every week. Malcolm keeps her vendors informed of who is going to be appearing each week, in order to avoid having rivals selling the same types of products on the same day. Will Powers of Pastures of Rose Creek says the company is doing well and “absolutely plans to continue selling [at the Winter Community Market] all season.”
In addition, vendors at specialty markets can serve very specific niche audiences. MEplusTEA owner Precious Jones, a regular Winter Community Market vendor, started her business last year after blending her own specialty herbal teas for five years. She uses the same blends that her grandmother, a midwife, used to promote lactation and ease morning sickness.
One of the biggest supporters of the Winter Community Market is Cosmic Delivery, an Athens food-delivery service. Owner Trent Walls sees the market as a great way to support local businesses and promote their own. Cosmic Delivery is helping to sponsor the market and is also devising a way to help vendors deliver products to customers as demand arises, much as his company delivers restaurant meals now.
Meanwhile, Malcolm’s plan to open the kitchen in April was delayed by the government shutdown, and she is impatiently waiting for the USDA to resume issuing licenses.