The Weblog

This page contains news, event information, and other items added by the market managers, including the weekly availability email. Be sure to check back regularly!



 
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Availability for March 19


Athens Locally Grown has a reputation for always being sold out of a few certain items. I think really that’s not entirely true when seasonality is taken into account, since we’ll never have enough tomatoes for everyone in January, for example. Eggs, on the other hand, we’ve never had enough of. Never, that is, until the last few weeks. Many of you might have stopped looking months or years ago, but we’ve actually had quite the surplus of eggs the past few weeks. The chicks that pretty much all of the egg producers added to their flocks last year are now producing, and just like that we’ve gone from having a dearth to having a surplus. So, if you’re one of the many who gave up on eggs long ago, take another look. We now have plenty (for the time being, anyway)!

And speaking of eggs, many of you ask about returning egg cartons. The state egg handling laws prohibit the re-use of egg cartons for sanitary reasons (there’s just no way to sterilize cardboard). Many of our growers do re-use some of them for on-farm sales or as an emergency reserve for if they run short on new cartons. We don’t have a way of getting the cartons back to the exact farm they came from, but we do accept cartons from you if you wish to return them, and make them available to the growers who want them. If you’d like to return yours, first make sure it is clean and in good shape. Open it, and stack them flat if you have more than one. We can only take cardboard and plastic (so long as the plastic ones can be opened and stacked flat), but no styrofoam. A few weeks ago, we got one with the lid ripped halfway off and three cups torn out. I’m not sure what we were expected to do with that. We have no trash pickup at the market location, and I have to haul everything back to my house in Franklin County, where we also have no trash pickup or recycling program. So, make sure they’re clean and in good shape when you bring them in.

Finally, it appears we’ve failed in the attempt to save the market building. Athens-Clarke County was interested, but not enough to officially ask for the property to be given to them. They can’t afford to buy the property, and aren’t sure if they could afford the holding costs even if it was given to them free and clear (which the state probably wouldn’t have done, but I didn’t see any harm in at least asking). Our only hope is if the state decides to hold onto the property to wait for a more favorable real estate market, but all indications are they are in a hurry to dump all of their properties to make up for some immediate budget shortfalls. So, we’ll get to use the place for a couple more months, possibly for up to a year, but odds are it will get sold later this year to a developer who will want to use it for a more commercial venture. I’ll be keeping a close eye on it, and in the meantime will begin exploring other possibilities for us.

Now onto the list! There are many great things available from our growers this week. Thank you for all of your support, and we’ll see you on Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at the old state farmers market on Broad Street.

Availability for March 12


Nothing like a couple days of beautiful 80 degree afternoons to make you forget that just five days ago you were huddled in the dark by the fireplace for warmth, no?

I took advantage of the weather to get my gardens up and running for the year. I let them rest over the winter, but now it was time to wake them. Today I got the first seeds in: Amish Snap Peas, Oxheard Carrots, Rainbow Swiss Chard, Chioggia Beets, and several other varieties are all in the ground. None of them will be ready until May, but luckily many of our growers have been working much harder than I, and so we have a decent list this week.

The snow and ice did throw a kink in many of our growers’ plans, though. I know Roots Farm lost their main hoophouse, and several other farms had quite a bit of cleanup to do. The snow itself wasn’t all that bad for the plants, since it acts as insulation against even colder air temperatures, and the melt off gave the ground a much needed soaking.

There’s nothing new to report on the efforts to save the old farmers market from being sold, but I hope to have some more information and perhaps a clearer call to action later this week.

Thanks for all of your support, and we’ll see you on Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at the old state farmers market on Broad Street!

Athens Locally Grown Reminder


I just wanted to send out another reminder about the market being open this week. We got our power restored last night, and I know a good number of you, growers and customers, were also out of power for a time. Some folks still are, for that matter.

Some of the growers updated their listing for the week yesterday, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some still are today. I’ll keep the market open for a few hours extra tonight (until at least 10pm) to give you a chance to look the list over for things you may have missed. Don’t be afraid to place two or three or more orders — we’ll see them all on Thursday.

In other news, we’re making slow progress on at least clarifying the state of the farmers market structure. I’d still say it’s a long shot that it becomes permanently available, but the local legislative delegation (most notably Rep. Doug McKillip, in the state house) is aware of our desire to save it and get it re-dedicated. Individuals in the ACC commission are also aware, and have been individually supporting of the idea. I’ll have more details as they become available, and hopefully some action items too.

Thanks for all of your support, and stay warm! We’ll see you on Thursday, from 4:30 to 8pm, at the old state farmers market on Broad Street.

Availability for March 5


Hi all. We’ve lost power here, but I’ve got just enough juice in my battery packs to open the market early. First time I’ve powered my satellite connection via battery, but such is life out in the county.

The growers are still likely adjusting their items, so if you order now, check back tomorrow to see what you might have missed.

I’ll send out a proper update later. See you Thursday!

Availability for February 26


Firstly this week, thank you to everyone who has been calling and writing your elected officials regarding the old state farmers market building! It has made a difference, but there is still a lot to do.

It seems that for pretty much everyone involved, the sale of the property was pretty much a done deal, needing only a little bureaucratic i’s to dot and t’s to cross. That may still be the case, but now the Athens-Clarke County government, the Georgia Department of Agriculture, and the Georgia Surplus Properties Division all know of our desire to reclaim the property for permanent use as a farmers market once again. Various people in each of those places even agree that it would be a splendid thing. Trouble is, none of them can do a thing about it.

It will take an act of legislature for anything to happen, whether it gets sold or reclaimed. It was an act of legislature in 2005 that officially declared it surplus and ordered it sold, and that law is still in force. So, we need a new law passed that ideally would transfer the property to ACC for use as a permanent farmers market. Optionally, the new law could transfer it back to the Ga Department of Agriculture, but it’d be more direct to put it under more local control.

So, if you haven’t do so yet, could you contact your state representative and senator, no matter what districts you live in, asking them to propose and support legislation to do this? You can find contact info for your state legislative delegation by going to http://www.votesmart.org/official_state.php?state_id=GA&go2.x=9&go2.y=12 and typing in your ZIP code. I still think it’s a long shot, but I haven’t hit any hard walls yet, so you never know. We might just pull it off, and secure a wonderful resource for our community.

The longer days and warmer weather have started the spring greens rolling it. I see more spinach, lettuce, and radishes on the list this week, along with other great tastes of spring. Last week, for the first time that I can remember, we had more eggs than we could sell, so the larger flocks that our growers started last year are now beginning to produce for you.

Thanks for all your support! We’ll see you this Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at the old state farmers market on Broad Street.

Availability for February 19


I’m pleased to announce that thanks to the efforts of ACC Commissioner Doug Lowry and Rod Bowlden, Deputy Executive Director of the State Properties Commission, we’ve been given a bit of a reprieve and can continue to use the old farmers market facilities for a while longer.

Even with the reprieve, nothing has changed in the long term. The state is still moving forward with selling the property, and unless something changes on that front, we will have to move elsewhere later this year. However, this gives us an opening!

It turns out that an act of legislature is needed to determine the exact boundaries of the property up for sale. There are three state agencies that use the original parcel, and so it’s unclear what is actually “surplus”, and until that gets sorted out, it can’t get sold. This give us the opportunity to show that in fact none of it is surplus.

In my view, ideally the state would transfer the property over to Athens-Clarke County for permanent use as a farmers market and related activities. Other possibilities include the state keeping the deed, but letting ACC, or the local Ag Extension Office, or a non-profit such as P.L.A.C.E. administer its use as a dedicated market facility.

Once that is done, then the property would be eligible for grants from the USDA and other sources to repair the years of neglect and really make the place nice. As I mentioned last week, it could easily support several full farmers markets a week, and give a permanent home to Athens Locally Grown, the Saturday market currently at Bishop Park, and a place for the few remaining local conventional farmers to sell their produce.

Here’s what has to take place for this to happen, and it’ll take your help:

1. ACC needs to be willing to take ownership of the property. They currently lease the property, and have responsibility for it. They have in the past been interested in owning the property, but the state was asking too much money for it. If we can get the state to just hand it over, that wouldn’t be a problem, but the county would still be taking on a liability risk. They would need to be willing to do so.

2. The Department of Agriculture would have to be willing to donate the property to the county, or to hold onto the deed and permanently lease the property to the county or other administering agency. The people I have spoken to there have said they’d love for the property to be used again for its intended purpose. They feel that it is out of their hands, though, since it has already been declared surplus and been handed off to the state properties division. This may be true, but it couldn’t hurt to have them explicitly on our side.

3. An act of legislature will have to take the property off the surplus roster and legally transfer it to the county (or back to the Ag Dept.). This is probably the hardest part, and is what makes this whole thing a long shot. The truth of the matter is the state is severely hurting for money, and in good times this would be a prime piece of real estate for a developer. I think we could show that we’d have a better economic impact for the region over the long term than a quick sale now, but I think it’s safe to say law makers aren’t known for looking at the long term.

So, here’s what you can do. Those of you living in Athens-Clarke County, contact your commissioners and let them know you’d like them to do what they can to secure the property for permanent use as a locally controlled farmers market. Point them to the Anderson Farmers Market for a nearby example of what’s possible.

Write or call the state Department of Agriculture. Their phone number is (404) 656-3645. They have a “Markets Division” which is in charge of all of the state markets. They’ll tell you that it’s out of their hands, but if they knew just how many people wanted this to happen, maybe they’d find a way to get it back in their hands.

Finally, write and call your state representative and senator. This isn’t just about Athens — Athens Locally Grown serves over 30,000 square miles of Georgia, and that covers an awful lot of districts. The farmers aren’t just in Athens, so ALG provides an economic boost for all of NE Georgia. The customers aren’t just in Athens, either, so ALG is helping to feed people across NE Georgia. This is the most critical thing, for someone will have to draft legislation to make this all happen. Even if ACC, the Ag Department, and the governor himself wanted this, it can’t happen without legislation, thanks to the surplus process that started some time ago.

If you’d like some statistics to help you, here’s a few:

  • As best as I can tell, ALG is the largest retail farmers market in the state
  • Nearly 70 growers sell at the market
  • Nearly 1700 households shop at the market
  • About a third of a million dollars of food was sold through the market in 2008
  • By pretty much every metric, the market doubles in size each year
  • ALG is in its eighth year of operation and has operated year-round for the past four winters.
  • The online farmers market model invented by ALG has now been duplicated by 75 other communities across the US (and into Canada & Australia).
  • ALG & Athens, GA is seen by many as a pioneer and an inspiration for successfully incubating and preserving the small family farm

Finally, pass this along to anyone you may know who can also spread the word. Forward this email, or send them to the website, where this email (and every email I send out) is preserved on the “Weblog” page.

Thank you for anything you can do! We have a hard task ahead of us, but now that we’ve been using the old market for the past several months, I can’t imagine using any other space. And I’ve already seen Locally Grown cause legislation to get passed (a sales tax measure in Tennessee that exempted farmers using the LG system from collecting sales tax), so I know it can be done.

Thanks for all of your support. We’ll see you Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at the old (and hopefully soon to be permanent) market on Broad Street!

Availability for February 12


Athens Locally Grown needs your help. It looks like we can use our current pick-up location, the old state farmers market on Broad Street, for a few more weeks, and then we need to find a new home.

Here’s the story: the property was declared as “surplus” some time ago (years ago, maybe) by the state Department of Agriculture. This began the long process of putting the property up for sale, but in the meantime, it was leased to Athens/Clarke county, who used it occasionally for a variety of things, and also used by the Agricultural Extension Office, located next door. But now, with the state desperate for money, they’ve declined to renew the lease with the county and are preparing to lock the gates for good on everyone now using it, including Athens Locally Grown.

Pretty much everyone now using the facility has tried to put the brakes on it, but as I said, the state is critically short on money, and even though this is probably the worst time to sell commercial property, they’re wanting to take what they can get. This also means donating it to the county or other local agency is out, and they’re asking far more than ACC (also short on cash) can pay. It goes without saying that my own bank account is also too small.

What I’ve been hoping for is that the state would hold onto the property and re-dedicate it as a farmers market. They wouldn’t even have to put any money into it — just making the property available would make it eligible for all sorts of grants that could be used to really fix the place up. Imagine the Saturday market moving there, ALG using it, and truck farmers setting up stalls throughout the week. With working facilities and a little sprucing up, it really could be something nice. If you’d like an example without going too far away, cruise over to Anderson, SC sometime, right up Highway 29. Anderson is comparable in size to Athens, and they’ve got a market structure downtown that would make many larger cities envious, and they started with a property not too different from what we’re using now.

But, barring some last minute reprieve, that just won’t happen here. And so, this is where I need your help. We’ve got four weeks to find a new home for Athens Locally Grown. The current area is nearly perfect, so it gives you an idea of what we’re looking for:

  • A covered area so we’re not in the weather. Doesn’t have to be indoors, doesn’t have to be climate controlled.
  • Enough room to spread out our cots, or available table space already in place. There’s not much now, but in the summer last year we had no trouble filling 21 cots and several tables. This year, we’ll probably need even more room.
  • Easy access for the growers to unload. Right now is perfect, but having to carry coolers through a hallway to get to a large room would not be.
  • Easy access to the milk truck while filling orders. Same as above, but more so.
  • Easy access for the customers. Plenty of parking. During the peak season, there are about 300 cars that come and go in the span of three and a half hours.
  • Centrally located. Many people would have a hard time going out to the far east side, or down Epps Bridge or Timothy, at the end of their work day. If places out the outskirts are all we can find, we’ll make it work, but close to downtown seems best.
  • Rent free, or very inexpensive. Right now we’re breaking even without paying rent. It’d be great to keep it that way, if possible.

So, given all that, do you know of any place that can take us? Or do you have an in with someone who can cut through the bureaucracy in Atlanta, and let us keep what we’ve got? Or are you sitting on a pile of money and want to be the proud owner of a somewhat dilapidated piece of commercial real estate on Broad Street?

If you can answer yes to any of these, please get in touch with me. I’ll keep working with the state until they change the locks on the gates, but in the meantime, I’ve got to start looking for a new home for us. And I’ve let hope carry me along longer than I probably ought to have, so time is of the essence.

Thank you for all of your support. Thanks to you, the notion of a market (actually, two markets!) in Athens large enough to fill that building when just years ago there was next to nothing is a reality, and is something Athens can be proud of. We’ll see you on Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm, at the old state farmers market on Broad Street.

Availability for February 5


We’re still in the doldrums of winter here, and even though things are so much better than four years ago, when there was no winter local market, there still isn’t enough leafy greens and other popular items for everyone. I’m sorry for that, but know that every year there is more than the last, and the growers are working hard to extend their growing season so that they can begin harvesting earlier in the year, and later in the year, with the goal of meeting the year-round demand. In the meantime, this is still our leanest time of year.

Last week there was a larger than usual number of people who never arrived to pick up their orders. Even worse, each order had items other people wanted but had to do without. Please remember that you are responsible for paying for items you order, even if you don’t come get them. The growers have been paid for their efforts in getting the items to you in anticipation of your arrival, and if they are still sitting there waiting for you at 8pm the only way for me to recover the costs is to charge you anyway. If you can’t arrive for whatever reason, please please call me at 706-248-1860. The earlier the better, of course, so we can find another home for your items. I do call everyone who hasn’t arrived by 7:30, using the number you have provided on your account, but I’d guess I only reach one person out of four, with answering machines and voice mail getting the rest.

Thank you for supporting your local food growers, even during the dark of winter. We’ll see you on Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at the old state farmers market on Broad Street.

Availability for January 29


I made it back from Chattanooga a couple hours ago, where a thousand sustainable farmers and other like minded folks gathered for the annual SSAWG conference. I was on the conference staff, which meant fifteen hour work days and didn’t get to go to most of the actual sessions, but it was totally worth it. Just getting to be around so many people trying to do the same things you are, and getting to talk with them in the halls and over meals, makes it an invaluable experience.

I’m exhausted, though, and just barely stayed awake long enough to get the site open for you. There are over 300 items available this week, including some new radishes, many carrots, and a special offer on Jerusalem Artichokes. Jim over at Jim’s Farm needed to move his bed of these sunflower relatives, and he has a good number of the tubers he just didn’t have room for and thus must be eaten by you. If you’ve never tried these, which can be used like a potato (mashed, roasted) or like a water chestnut (sliced and stir fried or eaten raw), now is the perfect opportunity. You’d be hard pressed to find these in a regular grocery store, and once you’ve tasted them you’ll wonder why.

Thanks for all your support! I know there were a few little glitches last week, but the market volunteers did a great job keeping things going while I was gone. We’ll see you all again this Thursday from 4:30pm to 8pm at the old state farmers market on Broad Street.

Availability for January 22


A couple weeks ago, I promised I’d get into the details of how the market sustains itself financially. Many of you have asked about that, and I’m happy to oblige.

First off, we’re legally a sole proprietorship, and the market is just an extension of my wife’s and my small farm. We file a Schedule F in addition to our regular tax forms. When the market started in 2002, it was named “Locally Grown Cooperative”, but it was never legally organized as a co-op. Dan & Kris Miller, the founders, were always sure to run things in a cooperative spirit, and when they handed the business to my wife and I in 2004, we’ve tried to do the same thing. I’ve renamed it to “Athens Locally Grown”, but you’ll still hear a number of people refer to us as “the co-op”.

We’re not a non-profit, either, but we’ve structured things so that over time the market can cover its own expenses. When things are good, it covers ours too. Just like all of our member farms are sustainable growers, the market itself needs to be sustainable. I mentioned last week that I thought we’d fall short this year, and on paper we did, just a little. The cash flow was just right, though, and we have the same amount in the cash box as we started 2008. My wife and I do not get paid, but if the market were to turn a profit, that’d show up on our personal tax forms. I was ok with it even if the loss on paper had been a lot larger, because we had unusual expenses last year. We bought quite a few new coolers (at about $100 each), all the lights we needed after we moved locations, some improvements to the truck, and so forth. We shouldn’t have so many expenses like that this year.

So how does the market cover its expenses? One small way is through the memberships you pay. The $25 a year you give to the market is enough (to put it bluntly) to cover the costs of having you as a customer: banking fees from depositing your checks, paper and ink for printing invoices, web hosting fees, and that sort of thing. What’s left over goes to helping fund farm tours, food donations to like-minded area groups and events, etc. We currently have 506 paid members out of the almost 1600 accounts on the website.

By far the bulk of our funding comes from the growers themselves. They generally pay a 10% commission on their sales through the site. This money covers the many coolers we use, the tables and cots used to spread out and organize your orders, the truck we bought at the end of 2007, gasoline, the food allowance we offer our volunteers, etc. During the winter, the sales are not enough to cover our weekly costs, but in the summertime there is extra. Last year, it pretty much all evened out in the end.

The growers get paid out of the shared cashbox when they drop off their sales, during the hour before we open the market. Then, you arrive and pay into the cashbox for our order. We then rush to the bank to deposit the money to cover the checks we just wrote to the growers. As explained elsewhere on the website, you are really ordering directly from and paying the growers yourself, but our shared cashbox system makes things convenient for you and them. (Imagine if you ordered from ten growers having to write ten checks when you picked up your items!) This shared cashbox system has so far satisfied the tax man, but it does mean that if you place an order and then never arrive to pick it up, we’re left holding the bag. For that reason, you are responsible for paying for orders not picked up, and that amount is automatically added on to your next order for your convenience. Last year, there was about $700 of produce ordered but never picked up and then never paid for at all (or paid for with bad checks). That might seem like a lot (and it is), but considering that the market had $308,000 in sales total, that’s not much at all. In fact, it’s less than a tenth of the US retail industry’s “shrinkage” rate.

So, in probably far too much detail, that’s how we operate. Our market might be more expensive to run than a traditional “booths and tables” farmers market, but that price buys a system that’s simple, time-saving, flexible, and in my opinion, just better. There’s no money in the bank, but the market is paying for itself, and that’s all I could ask for.

Now, on to the food! My wife and I will be in Tennessee this week for the SSAWG conference, but the market will go on as normal, thanks to my wonderful volunteer crew of workers and Michael McMullan (of McMullan Family Farm), who will be making the dairy run. They’ll see you on Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at the old state farmers market on Broad Street. Thanks from all of us for all of your support!