Jan Kozak can be seen wearing an Athens Farmer’s Market T-shirt by the entrance of the market. He’s interacting with vendors and visitors alike and watching his daughters do cartwheels and run around the stalls. He makes sure things run smoothly on market days.
Local and sustainable, the Athens Farmers Market supports local food providers and artisans and fosters the local economy.
“The market ends up serving a lot of different roles or having a lot of different impacts in the community,” said Kozak, the manager of the Athens Farmers Market. “One of those impacts is economic.”
Kozak said buying from local producers has double the economic impact of buying from a grocery store.
“When you buy local, that local vendor then takes that money to buy ingredients from other local vendors or pays payroll to their employees who are obviously local,” he said. “So the money bounces around a lot more, where as with a regular grocery store or other type of store, the money ends up getting shipped off to the headquarters, which may be in another state or in another country, and so the impact isn’t as significant.”
The Athens Farmers Market has been open since 2008. It works with about 80 vendors from 27 counties around Athens, Kozak said. There’s a market every Wednesday and Saturday. There are four types of vendors: growers, artisans, prepared food vendors, and non-profits. He said the vendors get 100 percent of the money they make at the market.
Kozak said the market is producer only, meaning reselling or distribution is not allowed at the market.
The Athens Farmers Market is sustainable, Kozak said, meaning the farmers have to be Certified Naturally Grown, which is similar to the Food and Drug Administration’s organic standards, and prepared food vendors are encouraged to buy locally and organically before looking elsewhere for their ingredients.
“The sustainability aspect of our market is very important too,” he said. “We try to make it clear to folks that that exists, but that not necessarily everything is organic and we have signage that indicates that. It’s all about being transparent as well. You’re not hiding behind a label or hiding behind cool marketing. You’re interacting with the person that produced the food and there’s a lot of beauty in that transparency.”
Angel Cooper, the baker at The Comerian and a vendor at the Athens Farmers Market, said the sustainability aspect of the market and the connection formed between buyer and vendor are the most important aspects of the market to her.
“The Athens Farmers Market provides organic or certified naturally grown produce, which means you feel confident that the produce you purchase will be free from pesticides and were grown locally and sustainably,” Cooper said. “Another important aspect is that you get a chance to talk directly with the people who grew or produced your food. The farmers are more than willing to talk about their methods and are often the best people for getting cooking tips and recipe ideas. The local prepared food vendors can also answer questions about ingredient choices and sourcing. Farmers markets are the only place to have such a close connection to the food you eat.”
Charlie Hartness, an Athens resident and musician, said he and his wife, Nancy, love going to the farmers market.
“I love the idea of getting food that I know didn’t travel very far to get into my kitchen or into my pot or onto my plate,” Hartness said. “I’m not the best vegetable gardener but I love going to the farmers market. There’re really great people there.”
More than just a place to buy local and often organic food, the Athens Farmers Market builds relationships within the community.
Hartness said he and his wife have built relationships with a lot of different people at the market. He said he and his wife like talking with all the vendors, particularly the farmers to get “growing tips.”
Kozak said one of his favorite things about the market is the sense of community it fosters. A lot of interaction happens at the market, he said, and it’s not something that happens at a grocery store. He said the market is personal. People build relationships there, and he said he loves seeing those friendships form.
“The market ends up being a lot more to the community than just a place to buy food,” Kozak said. “People connect to each other through the market. It becomes a gathering spot, and it becomes a place that people feel really good about visiting.”