The Athens Land Trust recently relocated the popular West Broad Market Garden from its old location at the West Broad School to the parking lot of the Athens Housing Authority at 300 Rocksprings St. The market responded to the pandemic crisis by taking a page from the Community Supported Agriculture playbook, offering produce, meats, fish, dairy, prepared foods, honey and many other products to its customers on a new website (wbfm.locallygrown.net). Ordered items are available for pickup at a curbside drive-through in the parking lot at their new location on Saturdays.
West Broad Farmers Market manager Ellie Adams says that vendors and customers alike miss the weekly jostle and activity at the weekly market, but that they have responded enthusiastically to the new format. The new plan allows vendors to know exactly how much produce to deliver to the market on Saturday, she says, saving them a lot of time.
Customers can shop online from 5 p.m. Sunday through 1 p.m. Thursday. Customers then arrive at the new location between 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. on Saturday to pick up their orders. Payments can be arranged online or can be taken at the drive-through. The market accepts cash, checks, credit card or EBT/SNAP. The market will continue its policy of offering “double dollars” to SNAP recipients, cutting their bills in half.
Vendors receive orders from the website and create packages for each individual’s order. Upon delivery, farmers market helpers sort these packages, assemble the orders, and deliver them to customers as they drive through.
Heather Benham, executive director of the Athens Land Trust, reports that the market is attracting more new vendors each week, about doubling since last year. Currently, about 30 vendors offer 500 products, including fresh produce, herbs, catfish, specialty Wagyu beef, flowers, honey and nuts. Want to watch caterpillars metamorphose into Monarch butterflies? They are available from the local Floating Flowers Butterfly Farm, along with the Butterfly weed essential to newly hatched Monarchs.
The new location will also host a community garden, restoring a popular feature at the old location. The new gardens, currently a series of raised planters, are filled with rich, organic topsoil, and were assigned last week at an ALT meeting to gardeners from the neighborhood who want to raise their own produce. Benham says the market will work with the community to continue adding planting beds to the one-acre plot.
The ALT was forced to seek out a new site for the market and garden when, after a years-long debate over the future of the property, the Clarke County School District decided to turn the vacant West Broad School into an early learning facility.
The ALT also owns Williams Farm, a five-acre produce farm off North Avenue where farm manager Seth Nivens practices next-level farming techniques to improve the quality of the soil. Currently, there are only cover crops designed to improve soil and suppress weeds in the fields. Prior to fall planting and seeding, the cover crops, a mix of buckwheat and field peas that will provide mulch for the fall crops. The garden’s 54 CSA customers are on hiatus now and will await new fall crops in mid- to late-September.
The Athens Land Trust has a robust mission that includes the West Broad market—its most visible project—and its popular Youth Development Program, a paid job-skills training program that has helped more than 300 high school-age students. The Young Urban Builders, the Young Urban Farmers and the Young Conservation Stewards programs are designed to give these students exposure to real-world job training and provide “soft skills” such as public speaking and leadership. Other programs support local community and school gardens. The ALT’s mission also reaches across the state with conservation programs that help landowners improve soil and water quality on nearly 19,000 acres of farmlands, wetlands and natural areas. In addition to conserving farmland and greenspace, the organization also builds and renovates affordable housing, using a model in which the buyer owns the house, but the ALT keeps the land in trust, reducing costs and enabling the home to remain affordable in perpetuity.
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