I write this blog on a Friday evening, bouncing in anticipation of Saturday morning. This situation is a bit of an anomaly for a college student on a weekend, but those other party-crazed students don't know about all the exciting goodies and people to be found just a mile away from Ohio University at the Athens Farmer's Market.
The market has been operating since the early 1970s, when farmers and the folks at the Soil and Water Conservation District got together to sell local produce to anyone with an eye and a taste for fresh fruits, vegatables and good friends.
My first experience at the market was back in fall quarter when my RA offered to take me. I was blown away by the size and number of customers on that Saturday morning. You could find anything from bags of apples sold by the pound by a husband and wife to slabs of rabbit meat displayed by a private hunter. I ended up buying a jar of apple butter and a loaf of fresh herb bread. As I sat alone in my dorm room later that day, I gushed over how fresh the food was. (Yes, out loud, it was that good!) It seemed like my body was accepting the purest form of nutrition, the way nature intended. Not only does fresh-grown food taste delicious, it also results in reduced energy usage and resources used in comparison to your Wal-Mart and Kroger groceries.
When Wal-Mart brings in produce, often the food grown is treated with pesticides and growth hormones. The process of irrigation and run-offs drains these chemicals into local water supplies where it affects wildlife there. The produce is then loaded onto a truck which takes it to packaging and distribution centers. This transportation process uses fuel, draining petroleum resources and emitting greenhouse gases. At the packaging center, produce is placed in some type of storage container, another resource used. The produce is then distributed to local stores.
Local farmers rarely use large amounts of chemicals and simply package their food and bring it straight to the place of commerce -- in this case, the farmer's market. Buying local produce is not only a more sustainable option, but it also supports the local economy. And in these times, that is extremely important, especially for small towns such as Athens.
Often the same vendors appear at the market every week and because of this, I have begun to build relationships with the people at the Athens Farmer's Market and have gained an appreciation for the sociological aspect of this place. The networking is fascinating! I have learned that many of the vendors have been selling their produce for years, and they know their customers well.
It is a process, says apple vendor Margie Shew, that contains an element of trust when the customer is handed their food straight from the hands that grew it. (And let me tell you, the apple butter from her hands is fantastic!)
Not only does shopping at the farmer's market contribute to the vitality of the local economy, but it also stirs up local culture as well. When I asked one vendor what she thought kept people coming back to the market, guitar player Jeremy Wright butted in, "Oh, definitely the music!" Since he was so outspoken, I began to ask him questions, too.
Wright has been playing guitar and harmonica at the Athens Farmer's Market for two years.
"I would play for nothing if I had to. I definitely believe the music enhances the experience when people expect and enjoy to hear it," Wright says. He is currently studying ceramics at Ohio University and teaches Native American flute classes at Hocking College. He's also very photogenic! (See photo at right.)
Oh, and by the way, that white bag in my hand is a loaf of freshly baked herb bread from a local vendor who uses only locally grown products, from the wheat and herbs down to butter from a nearby creamery.
Dig in, Athens!
About the market:
* Hours: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Wednesdays (April-December) and Saturdays (year-round)
* Contact information: Office phone: (740) 593-6763; cell phone: (740)972-2780 (during Market hours only) and email is firstname.lastname@example.org