So you might have noticed that things looked a bit crowded over at Ben’s Bikes last week. They were, no doubt, but we managed pretty well, I think. The line seemed pretty intimidating, especially between 4:30 and 5ish, but no one had to wait an especially long time. We had ten people filling orders simultaneously, and the line moved through pretty quickly. Why was it so crowded? Well, we smashed through our sales record last week, that’s all. And I don’t mean our record for this time of year… I mean our growers sold more products to more customers than at any other week in Athens Locally Grown’s history! And considering this isn’t even the peak growing season (many of the state’s farmers markets aren’t even open yet), it’s really got me thinking about how to handle continued growth as the year goes on.
Ben’s Bikes seems to be working out well. It looks like we’ve got it filled to the gills, but there is room yet to grow. For one, we’ll be putting up a large awning on the outside of the building that will allow us to greet you outdoors during good weather. With the pickup tables and the pay station outside, we’ll have almost half again as much space inside to spread out the orders. I’m also working on ways to further streamline how we fill the orders. Right now, we print out all of your invoices, a report that shows everything the growers are supposed to bring, and another condensed copy of all the orders for the pay station. All told, we go through almost a ream of paper each and every week. When the growers don’t bring everything they’re supposed to, or we just can’t find it while we’re filling your order, or we overlook something for you and find it later in the evening, we have to cross-reference those items in order to adjust your amount due, or to refund your accounts, and to charge shortages back to the growers. And then I have to take all that back home and enter everything back into the website. It’s so much simpler than it sounds, but it’s still much more complicated and time consuming than I think it has to be. It particularly slows down whoever is working the cash box, as all this absolutely has to be written down.
Over the last few years, I’ve sort of fantasized about recording all of this live on the website right then and there using iPhones, but they were just too small to make the process as easy as I wanted it to be. That’s all changed though, now that the iPad has arrived. To make the entire market paperless, I’d need about a dozen of them and of course I don’t have anywhere near the resources to acquire that many. The record sales we’ve had have filled the coffers enough to get two, and we’ll start with that. Last week we checked in several of the growers using a special page on the website, and I didn’t print the growers report, an eighty page document, at all. Soon, we’ll have them at the pay station, and orders can be marked and adjusted in real time. This will let us have two people accept payments, so you’ll be able to get out twice as quickly. We should also soon after that be able to start accepting credit and debit cards too, something many of you have been asking for.
Eventually, through a grant or marvelous benefactor maybe, we’ll be able to have one for each market volunteer so they can pull up the orders and fill the bins and mark things off electronically. Once there, we’ll be saving about 400 pages of paper a week. Conceivably, they’d even be able to take your payment then and there, eliminating the need for a separate pay table altogether. It’d only take about $6000 to get us there. It’s a lot of money, but in the grand scheme of things, it sounds pretty reasonable to me. I’ll try to make it happen.
In the meantime, we’re working on the space at Ben’s Bikes. I mentioned the awning earlier. All the parts are on order and should be delivered in the next week or two. If everything arrives on schedule, I’d love to build it on the weekend of May 8th. I’ll let you know for sure before then. With just a few people helping, it should be pretty easy to put up. Before that, though, the folks at Ben’s Bikes have offered to let us paint an Athens Locally Grown mural on the outside wall there. You might remember they have a folk-art style mural over on their side (see it here), and it would be great to have a stylistically similar mural over on “our” side. I’ve sketched out a rough idea that includes corn, tomato, and eggplant plants and a radish, turnip, and carrot with their tops appearing above the awning and their roots sticking down below. (You can see a bigger picture here, very poorly drawn.) We have to move fast to get this painted, because once we put up the awning it’ll be too late! I’d like to do it this coming weekend if at all possible. If you’d like to help paint, please let me know, and I’ll send you all the details. Also, if you’d like to take my crude drawing and re-draw it to match the style of their existing mural, we can project that on the wall and use that. If that’s something you can do, please draw it up and send it to me ASAP. I’m certainly no artist…
Thanks so much for your support of Athens Locally Grown and everything we’ve tried to accomplish. With you’re help, we’ve been able to build something truly great and inspirational to people all across the country, more than you could know. Thank you also for your support of all of our growers, local food, and our rights to eat it. You all are part of what makes Athens such a great area in which to live. We’ll see you on Thursday at Ben’s Bikes at the corner of Pope and Broad Streets from 4:30 to 8pm!
Farmer for a Day: MAY 15, Saturday, at Darby Farms (Walton County)
Certified Naturally Grown. Darby Farms is a family owned pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm and informational outreach in Walton County. We produce: pastured poultry (eggs, chicken, turkeys, ducks and guinea fowl) and will soon be offering pastured pork. We are in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture. Experience the satisfaction of knowing your food and your farmer and building community. We are your clean meat connection. This farm is approximately 27 miles from Athens and it’ll take about 40 minutes to get there. Space is limited, so please make reservations by adding them to your order. You’ll find it under the “Events Reservations” category on the website.
Farmer for a Day: JUNE 13, Sunday, at Sundance Farm (Madison County)
Certified Naturally Grown. We are a family farm growing a diverse variety of vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruits and berries. We also raise chickens, heritage turkeys and goats. Our three children are the heart of our farm. They enjoy the healthy food they help harvest and realize what it takes to get from a seed to the table. We are Certified Naturally Grown and have sold produce in the Athens area since 1998. Currently we sell at Athens Locally Grown, Athens Farmers Market, local restaurants and from the farm. We are also planning a C.S.A. in the near future. We appreciate all the Locally Grown customers that have supported us through the years, allowing us to do what we love, Growing good food. This farm is approximately 13 miles from Athens, and it’ll take 20 minutes to get there. Space is limited, so please make reservations by adding them to your order. You’ll find it under the “Events Reservations” category on the website.
The Athens Farmers Market is closed for the winter. They’ll be opening back up for the season on May 8th. You can watch for news during the offseason on their website. The other area markets are also getting ready to open again. When I hear about their opening dates, I’ll let you know.
Please support your local farmers and food producers, where ever you’re able to do so!