By Gretchen Gregory
This blog wouldn’t be complete without talking about the Athens Farmers Market, and how one relatively small city in Southeastern Ohio has helped revolutionize the way in which food is bought, grown, and sold locally and sustainably.
The market celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, and manager Kip Parker says preparations are underway to celebrate the community’s commitment to a sustainable local food economy.
“Local food is a big deal here,” Parker said, explaining that restaurants buy food from those at the market, just as individual customers do. “The next best thing to growing your own food is knowing where it comes from.”
While you can see an assortment of vegetables this time of year, like boch choy and kale, spinach and arugula, butternut squashes, mixed greens and herbs, summer time is the best. That’s when you can find juicy and sweet heirloom tomatoes in an assortment of purples and oranges and big beefeaters that are great on sandwiches and pizza.
The market combines the friendliness and warmth of tradition with the knowledge that the food you buy was probably picked within 24 hours. Even in the winter, many farmers have large greenhouses to supply restaurants and individual customers with the produce they need.
What I enjoy most about the farmer’s market is the taste and quality of the food, although the social aspect is just as important. It’s a great place to see friends and neighbors, and we sometimes make plans to go out later that evening.
It’s simply tradition carried forward to the present-day, and I like to think my great-grandma who farmed much of her life, just like many before her, did what I try to do today. And so in a sense, their way of life continues in the modern day through all of us who shop at farmers markets.
“The market is definitely a social destination for many,” agrees Michelle Gorman, who owns Integration Acres along with her husband, Chris Chmiel. “So many people congregate every single Saturday, planning on stocking up for the week but also counting on meeting with friends. It’s a family-friendly environment for sure.”
Her farm has been in operation since 1996 selling farmstead cheeses like chevre, goat feta, smoked goat feta, smoked cheddar, and other assorted cheeses too numerous to mention. I always buy pesto when I’m there, and my husband really enjoys the cabbage kimchi. Every once in a while we’ll buy their pickles, but our friends can pickles by the quarts each year and keep us in plentiful supply.
Gorman and Chmiel also are known for their pawpaw popsicles in the summer, a remarkable recipe made from the fresh fruit. They also organize the annual Pawpaw Festival held each summer, which draws quite a large crowd eager to hear live music.
My husband and I consider ourselves quasi-vegetarians, meaning we hardly ever eat meat. On the rare occasion when we do, we like to know the farm it came from, which in most cases is King Family Farm of Albany. It just tastes better, not to mention it’s a hormone and antibiotic free animal.
Baked goods also are available for purchase, like herb bread from Crumb’s Bakery, fruit pies with homemade crusts and cookies by my neighbor down the road, rare homemade jellies and jams like Peach Butter and Habanero Sweet Jelly, Coffee Jam, and Creamed Honey created by local beekeepers.
Jack Cantrell is one such local veteran beekeeper who owns Cantrell Honey, and he’s been president of the farmers market for two years. He and his wife breed their queens for honey production, while the capping wax removed during the extraction process is used to create pure beeswax candles.
“AFM has become a social event,” he explained. “Not only do we have our loyal customers, but everyone talks about our market. The word of mouth really helps in bringing not only visitors, but other people in our community that have not tried the market.”
The trend of farmers markets to spring up in various parts of the country is pretty remarkable, and I hope it continues growing. The only way it can continue is if we, the consumers, help maintain the markets we have and educate others about the benefits of buying food locally.
“I think today’s market is right in line with the founders vision – quality local food for Athens,” said Bill Wethington, who served as president of the market for more than a decade. “The best thing about the market is the fact that everything is home grown in or around Athens County.”
“People have realized that supporting your local farmer means fresher and healthier food for your family while simultaneously fueling the local economy by spending dollars in the community,” Gorman added. “Personally I love going there knowing I’m getting the freshest food possible, often grown by friends and harvested within the past 24 hours of me purchasing it. Plus you can always count on running into friends and acquaintances who also share these values.”
For a complete history of how the market came to be, including those individuals who helped bring it to fruition and helped it grow the past 40 years, please visit www.athensfarmersmarket.org.