At the Athens Farmers Market “we have a mentality that good, healthy, local food is a basic human right, and not a privilege. The food we have for sale should be accessible for everybody,” says AFM Market Manager Jan Kozak. Since accepting her position in 2010, Kozak has seen the Athens Farmers Market grow into a remarkable nonprofit that is avid about giving people of all income levels the opportunity to buy and consume locally-grown produce.
The Athens Farmers Market staunchly supports the simple practice of producer-to-consumer, without any of the thirdhand party frills. Working with a market of vendors and farmers from over 20 surrounding counties, AFM’s guarantee is that you buy directly from the person who grew or made your food.
“People are looking for more of that nowadays. They are looking for cleanliness and freshness and a deeper connection to their food,” says Kozak. And the strict guidelines implemented at AFM ensure that each farm is sustainable and local. Along with these qualities, Kozak believes the market elicits more of conversation and learning experience that your regular old grocery store simply doesn't offer. That too is a differentiating and vital aspect to AFM.
Another important feature at AFM is the double value coupon program. At AFM, food stamps are worth double the value, allowing the financial aspect of local food to be more accessible for low-income customers. Last year alone the market drew in 30,000 food stamps—double the amount from the previous year.
Altogether, these characteristics at AFM are a step in the right direction to allowing fresh produce to be obtainable to all visitors. “It’s a return to the way people used to buy food. It’s a rejection to the corporate and centralized model that food comes from a small number of large producers,” Kozak notes. “It’s classically American.”
For Athens, a huge benefit is the exceptionally long growing season—about 9-10 months out of the year— producing a wide array of diverse fruits and vegetables. Some common produce includes tomatoes, kale, watermelon, summer squashes, okra, potatoes of all colors (even purple), peppers, berries, and arugula.
The Athens Farmers Market also plays host to a wide cast of characters. There are typically 20-22 farmers, 10-15 food vendors, and 10-15 arts and crafts vendors represented each year. Some of the usual suspects are Cedar Grove Farm, Booger Hill Bee Company, Athens’ 1000 Faces Coffee, and Mama Bird’s Granola. If you need a quick pick-me-up at the market, try the popular Honeypop popsicles from 3 Porch Farm. These simple, yet delicious pops contain only two ingredients: honey and strawberries. And they're magical.
The Athens Farmers Market is open in two different seasonal locations from April to December. On Saturdays, the market is on the west side of town in Bishop Park and lasts 8 am until noon. Saturday's market is much larger and includes live music. “It’s almost like throwing a big party every Saturday morning,” says Kozak.
On Wednesdays, the market is located downtown at the one-of-a-kind Creature Comforts Brewery from 4-7 pm. This market is smaller, laid back, and usually entertains the college student customers.
Athens is a diverse and ever-changing community. The Athens Farmers Market embodies these characteristics and encourages patrons of all ages and backgrounds to come together and celebrate the benefits and joys of fresh and sustainable produce.