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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.