The Weblog

This weblog contains news and the weblog entries from all the markets currently using the system.

To visit the authoring market’s website, click on the market name located in the entry’s title.

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Athens Locally Grown:  Availability for March 5

Hi all. We’ve lost power here, but I’ve got just enough juice in my battery packs to open the market early. First time I’ve powered my satellite connection via battery, but such is life out in the county.

The growers are still likely adjusting their items, so if you order now, check back tomorrow to see what you might have missed.

I’ll send out a proper update later. See you Thursday!

Athens Locally Grown:  Availability for February 26

Firstly this week, thank you to everyone who has been calling and writing your elected officials regarding the old state farmers market building! It has made a difference, but there is still a lot to do.

It seems that for pretty much everyone involved, the sale of the property was pretty much a done deal, needing only a little bureaucratic i’s to dot and t’s to cross. That may still be the case, but now the Athens-Clarke County government, the Georgia Department of Agriculture, and the Georgia Surplus Properties Division all know of our desire to reclaim the property for permanent use as a farmers market once again. Various people in each of those places even agree that it would be a splendid thing. Trouble is, none of them can do a thing about it.

It will take an act of legislature for anything to happen, whether it gets sold or reclaimed. It was an act of legislature in 2005 that officially declared it surplus and ordered it sold, and that law is still in force. So, we need a new law passed that ideally would transfer the property to ACC for use as a permanent farmers market. Optionally, the new law could transfer it back to the Ga Department of Agriculture, but it’d be more direct to put it under more local control.

So, if you haven’t do so yet, could you contact your state representative and senator, no matter what districts you live in, asking them to propose and support legislation to do this? You can find contact info for your state legislative delegation by going to and typing in your ZIP code. I still think it’s a long shot, but I haven’t hit any hard walls yet, so you never know. We might just pull it off, and secure a wonderful resource for our community.

The longer days and warmer weather have started the spring greens rolling it. I see more spinach, lettuce, and radishes on the list this week, along with other great tastes of spring. Last week, for the first time that I can remember, we had more eggs than we could sell, so the larger flocks that our growers started last year are now beginning to produce for you.

Thanks for all your support! We’ll see you this Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at the old state farmers market on Broad Street.

Athens Locally Grown:  Availability for February 19

I’m pleased to announce that thanks to the efforts of ACC Commissioner Doug Lowry and Rod Bowlden, Deputy Executive Director of the State Properties Commission, we’ve been given a bit of a reprieve and can continue to use the old farmers market facilities for a while longer.

Even with the reprieve, nothing has changed in the long term. The state is still moving forward with selling the property, and unless something changes on that front, we will have to move elsewhere later this year. However, this gives us an opening!

It turns out that an act of legislature is needed to determine the exact boundaries of the property up for sale. There are three state agencies that use the original parcel, and so it’s unclear what is actually “surplus”, and until that gets sorted out, it can’t get sold. This give us the opportunity to show that in fact none of it is surplus.

In my view, ideally the state would transfer the property over to Athens-Clarke County for permanent use as a farmers market and related activities. Other possibilities include the state keeping the deed, but letting ACC, or the local Ag Extension Office, or a non-profit such as P.L.A.C.E. administer its use as a dedicated market facility.

Once that is done, then the property would be eligible for grants from the USDA and other sources to repair the years of neglect and really make the place nice. As I mentioned last week, it could easily support several full farmers markets a week, and give a permanent home to Athens Locally Grown, the Saturday market currently at Bishop Park, and a place for the few remaining local conventional farmers to sell their produce.

Here’s what has to take place for this to happen, and it’ll take your help:

1. ACC needs to be willing to take ownership of the property. They currently lease the property, and have responsibility for it. They have in the past been interested in owning the property, but the state was asking too much money for it. If we can get the state to just hand it over, that wouldn’t be a problem, but the county would still be taking on a liability risk. They would need to be willing to do so.

2. The Department of Agriculture would have to be willing to donate the property to the county, or to hold onto the deed and permanently lease the property to the county or other administering agency. The people I have spoken to there have said they’d love for the property to be used again for its intended purpose. They feel that it is out of their hands, though, since it has already been declared surplus and been handed off to the state properties division. This may be true, but it couldn’t hurt to have them explicitly on our side.

3. An act of legislature will have to take the property off the surplus roster and legally transfer it to the county (or back to the Ag Dept.). This is probably the hardest part, and is what makes this whole thing a long shot. The truth of the matter is the state is severely hurting for money, and in good times this would be a prime piece of real estate for a developer. I think we could show that we’d have a better economic impact for the region over the long term than a quick sale now, but I think it’s safe to say law makers aren’t known for looking at the long term.

So, here’s what you can do. Those of you living in Athens-Clarke County, contact your commissioners and let them know you’d like them to do what they can to secure the property for permanent use as a locally controlled farmers market. Point them to the Anderson Farmers Market for a nearby example of what’s possible.

Write or call the state Department of Agriculture. Their phone number is (404) 656-3645. They have a “Markets Division” which is in charge of all of the state markets. They’ll tell you that it’s out of their hands, but if they knew just how many people wanted this to happen, maybe they’d find a way to get it back in their hands.

Finally, write and call your state representative and senator. This isn’t just about Athens — Athens Locally Grown serves over 30,000 square miles of Georgia, and that covers an awful lot of districts. The farmers aren’t just in Athens, so ALG provides an economic boost for all of NE Georgia. The customers aren’t just in Athens, either, so ALG is helping to feed people across NE Georgia. This is the most critical thing, for someone will have to draft legislation to make this all happen. Even if ACC, the Ag Department, and the governor himself wanted this, it can’t happen without legislation, thanks to the surplus process that started some time ago.

If you’d like some statistics to help you, here’s a few:

  • As best as I can tell, ALG is the largest retail farmers market in the state
  • Nearly 70 growers sell at the market
  • Nearly 1700 households shop at the market
  • About a third of a million dollars of food was sold through the market in 2008
  • By pretty much every metric, the market doubles in size each year
  • ALG is in its eighth year of operation and has operated year-round for the past four winters.
  • The online farmers market model invented by ALG has now been duplicated by 75 other communities across the US (and into Canada & Australia).
  • ALG & Athens, GA is seen by many as a pioneer and an inspiration for successfully incubating and preserving the small family farm

Finally, pass this along to anyone you may know who can also spread the word. Forward this email, or send them to the website, where this email (and every email I send out) is preserved on the “Weblog” page.

Thank you for anything you can do! We have a hard task ahead of us, but now that we’ve been using the old market for the past several months, I can’t imagine using any other space. And I’ve already seen Locally Grown cause legislation to get passed (a sales tax measure in Tennessee that exempted farmers using the LG system from collecting sales tax), so I know it can be done.

Thanks for all of your support. We’ll see you Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at the old (and hopefully soon to be permanent) market on Broad Street!

Athens Locally Grown:  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.

Athens Locally Grown:  Availability for February 5

We’re still in the doldrums of winter here, and even though things are so much better than four years ago, when there was no winter local market, there still isn’t enough leafy greens and other popular items for everyone. I’m sorry for that, but know that every year there is more than the last, and the growers are working hard to extend their growing season so that they can begin harvesting earlier in the year, and later in the year, with the goal of meeting the year-round demand. In the meantime, this is still our leanest time of year.

Last week there was a larger than usual number of people who never arrived to pick up their orders. Even worse, each order had items other people wanted but had to do without. Please remember that you are responsible for paying for items you order, even if you don’t come get them. The growers have been paid for their efforts in getting the items to you in anticipation of your arrival, and if they are still sitting there waiting for you at 8pm the only way for me to recover the costs is to charge you anyway. If you can’t arrive for whatever reason, please please call me at 706-248-1860. The earlier the better, of course, so we can find another home for your items. I do call everyone who hasn’t arrived by 7:30, using the number you have provided on your account, but I’d guess I only reach one person out of four, with answering machines and voice mail getting the rest.

Thank you for supporting your local food growers, even during the dark of winter. We’ll see you on Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at the old state farmers market on Broad Street.

Athens Locally Grown:  Availability for January 29

I made it back from Chattanooga a couple hours ago, where a thousand sustainable farmers and other like minded folks gathered for the annual SSAWG conference. I was on the conference staff, which meant fifteen hour work days and didn’t get to go to most of the actual sessions, but it was totally worth it. Just getting to be around so many people trying to do the same things you are, and getting to talk with them in the halls and over meals, makes it an invaluable experience.

I’m exhausted, though, and just barely stayed awake long enough to get the site open for you. There are over 300 items available this week, including some new radishes, many carrots, and a special offer on Jerusalem Artichokes. Jim over at Jim’s Farm needed to move his bed of these sunflower relatives, and he has a good number of the tubers he just didn’t have room for and thus must be eaten by you. If you’ve never tried these, which can be used like a potato (mashed, roasted) or like a water chestnut (sliced and stir fried or eaten raw), now is the perfect opportunity. You’d be hard pressed to find these in a regular grocery store, and once you’ve tasted them you’ll wonder why.

Thanks for all your support! I know there were a few little glitches last week, but the market volunteers did a great job keeping things going while I was gone. We’ll see you all again this Thursday from 4:30pm to 8pm at the old state farmers market on Broad Street.

Athens Locally Grown:  Availability for January 22

A couple weeks ago, I promised I’d get into the details of how the market sustains itself financially. Many of you have asked about that, and I’m happy to oblige.

First off, we’re legally a sole proprietorship, and the market is just an extension of my wife’s and my small farm. We file a Schedule F in addition to our regular tax forms. When the market started in 2002, it was named “Locally Grown Cooperative”, but it was never legally organized as a co-op. Dan & Kris Miller, the founders, were always sure to run things in a cooperative spirit, and when they handed the business to my wife and I in 2004, we’ve tried to do the same thing. I’ve renamed it to “Athens Locally Grown”, but you’ll still hear a number of people refer to us as “the co-op”.

We’re not a non-profit, either, but we’ve structured things so that over time the market can cover its own expenses. When things are good, it covers ours too. Just like all of our member farms are sustainable growers, the market itself needs to be sustainable. I mentioned last week that I thought we’d fall short this year, and on paper we did, just a little. The cash flow was just right, though, and we have the same amount in the cash box as we started 2008. My wife and I do not get paid, but if the market were to turn a profit, that’d show up on our personal tax forms. I was ok with it even if the loss on paper had been a lot larger, because we had unusual expenses last year. We bought quite a few new coolers (at about $100 each), all the lights we needed after we moved locations, some improvements to the truck, and so forth. We shouldn’t have so many expenses like that this year.

So how does the market cover its expenses? One small way is through the memberships you pay. The $25 a year you give to the market is enough (to put it bluntly) to cover the costs of having you as a customer: banking fees from depositing your checks, paper and ink for printing invoices, web hosting fees, and that sort of thing. What’s left over goes to helping fund farm tours, food donations to like-minded area groups and events, etc. We currently have 506 paid members out of the almost 1600 accounts on the website.

By far the bulk of our funding comes from the growers themselves. They generally pay a 10% commission on their sales through the site. This money covers the many coolers we use, the tables and cots used to spread out and organize your orders, the truck we bought at the end of 2007, gasoline, the food allowance we offer our volunteers, etc. During the winter, the sales are not enough to cover our weekly costs, but in the summertime there is extra. Last year, it pretty much all evened out in the end.

The growers get paid out of the shared cashbox when they drop off their sales, during the hour before we open the market. Then, you arrive and pay into the cashbox for our order. We then rush to the bank to deposit the money to cover the checks we just wrote to the growers. As explained elsewhere on the website, you are really ordering directly from and paying the growers yourself, but our shared cashbox system makes things convenient for you and them. (Imagine if you ordered from ten growers having to write ten checks when you picked up your items!) This shared cashbox system has so far satisfied the tax man, but it does mean that if you place an order and then never arrive to pick it up, we’re left holding the bag. For that reason, you are responsible for paying for orders not picked up, and that amount is automatically added on to your next order for your convenience. Last year, there was about $700 of produce ordered but never picked up and then never paid for at all (or paid for with bad checks). That might seem like a lot (and it is), but considering that the market had $308,000 in sales total, that’s not much at all. In fact, it’s less than a tenth of the US retail industry’s “shrinkage” rate.

So, in probably far too much detail, that’s how we operate. Our market might be more expensive to run than a traditional “booths and tables” farmers market, but that price buys a system that’s simple, time-saving, flexible, and in my opinion, just better. There’s no money in the bank, but the market is paying for itself, and that’s all I could ask for.

Now, on to the food! My wife and I will be in Tennessee this week for the SSAWG conference, but the market will go on as normal, thanks to my wonderful volunteer crew of workers and Michael McMullan (of McMullan Family Farm), who will be making the dairy run. They’ll see you on Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at the old state farmers market on Broad Street. Thanks from all of us for all of your support!

Athens Locally Grown:  Availability for January 15

I was going to talk today about the finances of Athens Locally Grown, but I haven’t finished the books for 2008 yet. It looks like we were a couple thousand dollars short of breaking even, but I’ll know for sure later on and will have a full report then.

In the mean time, I’ve been preparing for the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group’s conference next week in Chattanooga. I’m on the conference staff, in charge of all the computers and projectors used in the many presentation rooms, and that’ll keep me busy. I’ll also be getting together with market managers and growers from the many other communities using my model (39 now up and running and another 13 getting underway), and I’m looking forward to that.

The conference runs from Wednesday through Sunday next week, but even though I’ll be gone, Athens Locally Grown will be up and running, thanks to our weekly volunteers and Michael McMullan (who’ll be going to pick up the milk).

I see a few new items this week, including the first new onions. Onions get planted in the fall here, and now is the time to thin the rows, and those thinnings provide you with green onions. We are coming into the coldest time of the year, though, so our availability will be more unpredictable than usual for the next few weeks.

Thanks again for all your support! We’ll see you on Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at the old farmers market on Broad Street.

Athens Locally Grown:  Availability for January 8

As we start our eighth year at Athens Locally Grown, I’m going to take the next few weeks to discuss the hows and whys of ALG. We’ve come a long way from the first half-dozen farmers putting together boxes for the couple dozen customers out at Heirloom Organics in Winterville. Three of those first growers are still with us, as are many of those first customers, but now we’re approaching seventy growers and two thousand customers. I’ve worked hard to keep the spirit of cooperation intact even as we’ve grown, but in the convenience of our system the reasons for why we do what we do sometimes get glossed over.

This week, I’m going to talk about the many legal issues surrounding our market. Even though many people call us “the co-op”, ALG is legally an extension of my wife’s and my vegetable farm. There’s no board of directors, no shield corporation, no pot of grant money. It’s just us, and while that keeps things very simple, it also exposes my family to a ton of liability.

Some of you have sent me news items about the raid last month by armed law enforcement officers (some have described it as a SWAT raid, but it wasn’t quite that bad) on the home of John and Jacqueline Stowers, who run the Manna Storehouse, an organic food co-op in Ohio not too dissimilar from Athens Locally Grown. You can watch the Stowers tell their side of the story, or read news accounts, or read lots of web chatter about it. However it all plays out in court, undisputed is the entire family (including children) were held at gunpoint for hours while their house was searched and food and computers were seized. I’m doing my best to avoid having the same thing happen to my family, and there are several things we do specifically toward that end:

  • The growers list their own items and set their own prices. When you buy from them, it is from them, not from me, and not from Athens Locally Grown.
  • Athens Locally Grown never takes ownership of the food. The growers drop it off, and you pick it up.
  • The raw milk is a little different, since by federal law the dairies in South Carolina are not allowed to bring their milk into Georgia. In this case, the price for milk on the site includes a separate amount you pay us to go pick up your milk for you.
  • Everything at the market has a customer’s name attached to it. ALG does not repackage any items.
  • When you pay, you’re paying into a shared cash box for all of the growers. This lets you write a single check for convenience, but you are really paying all of the growers directly.
  • The growers give a percentage of their sales back to the market to cover the expenses of keeping the market going. I’ll cover finances another week.
  • ALG never buys from a grower and resells the items to you. Never.
  • When a grower sells items that need licenses from either the state or the federal government, ALG verifies that the proper licenses have been obtained.

The ownership issue is key. It’s one of the reasons why we can’t deliver, and why we usually can’t hold items for you if you aren’t able to pick up your orders. That might be a good business for someone, but it’s not at all what I want to be into. Many food coops and even some farmers markets aren’t as careful with that as I try to be, and indications are that’s what got the Manna Storehouse into trouble. There are so many grey areas in all this, and the regulations don’t even consider that something like Athens Locally Grown might exist. We’re firmly in the grey areas with most everything we do that it’s just too risky for me to bring us into the areas that are clearly black.

So, these are the sorts of things that guide my thinking as Locally Grown has grown over the years. Everything we do has legal ramifications, and the state of Georgia has a reputation for being no nonsense when it comes to enforcement. I’m not a lawyer, but every time we enter those grey areas, I make sure we follow the intent of the laws, don’t flaunt anything, and have a good defense and a paper trail should we need it.

On that note, let’s get on to the food! The bakers have returned from their holidays, and the cold has bitten back some of the greens, but apart from that the list looks much like last week. January and February tend to be hard months to grow anything, even in greenhouses, so we’re likely to see the variety dip a bit in coming weeks. It won’t be too long, though, now that the days are slowly getting longer, that we’ll start seeing the spring goodies come back.

Thanks for all of your support. If it wasn’t for your desire to eat freshly harvested, locally grown food, we wouldn’t be here at all. We’ll see you on Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at the old state farmers market on Broad Street!

Athens Locally Grown:  Availability for January 1

I hope the last two weeks have been good to you. I’m still a couple hours from home, completing a nice visit with family in Florida. No need for you to wait on me, though, so I’ll go ahead and open the market now.

I did see a few new items this week, including diced bell peppers and sliced squash from Backyard Harvest, all harvested at the peak of their season and then hand processed and frozen in their on-farm certified kitchen. Georgia makes it more difficult than many other states for growers to get you preserved items, and I’m glad that Boo & Becky at Backyard Harvest was able to navigate the system and, on their own, build an acceptable facility.

Even though Thursday is New Year’s Day, we are operating on our normal schedule. We don’t have another week off on the calendar until Thanksgiving next year, in fact.

Thank you all for your constant support, and Happy New Year! I know some of you have just discovered us, but 2009 will be Athens Locally Grown’s eigth year, and we wouldn’t be here without you. We’ll see you on Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at the old state farmers market on Broad Street.