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Meet Jay Payne of Athens Farmers Market

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jay Payne.

The Athens Farmers Market was started in 2008 by a group of small local farmers practicing sustainable agriculture and interested in an opportunity to share the clean, healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables with the local community.

The foundering group of farmers decided from the beginning to hold to three primary tenets: all food provided at the market had to be produced by farmers USDA certified organic or Certified Naturally Grown, all farms must lie within a 26 county diameter of Athens-Clarke County, and only produce grown by the farmers may be sold. With the decision to make farmers’ produce the focus of the market, additional features were added to enhance the patrons’ experience such as a local coffee roaster selling fresh brewed coffee and beans. A local bakery selling baked goods made with organic ingredients, a food truck selling freshly prepared breakfast biscuits made with organic flour, free-range chicken eggs and pasture raised pork sausage and bacon, plus a rotating membership of local artisans bringing their own handmade arts and crafts.

Putting the elements together under the Mission Statement of “existing to foster a dynamic economic and educational connection between community members, farmers, and artisans by providing a marketplace for food grown locally using sustainable farming methods and for locally produced handcrafted goods and prepared foods”, the Athens Farmers Market is an established small business incubator drawing an average 2200 patron every Saturday morning to a community park and several 100 more every Wednesday afternoon in downtown Athens.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
There are three paramount requirements for a successful farmers market: 1) a group of committed farmers that bring a bounty of produce throughout the year, 2) a community that supports the ideals of the market and buys the product and 3) a market manager that is empowered and active in running the operation of the market.

The Athens Farmers Market started almost from the beginning with these three pieces in place. There were and continue to be learning experiences and challenges. It is a continuous issue to maintain the three tenets and even to raise the standards whenever possible. There have been vendors that were accepted at an earlier market, did not respond to raising of standards and were subsequently rejected.

Every year there have been nuances that require modifying the Bylaws or the Operating Policies. These challenges are addressed by a board made up of a majority of farmer vendors, single representatives of Arts and Crafts and Food Purveyors plus two non-vendor board members from the community. The Athens Farmers Market has been fortunate to always have in the 10 years of operation a committed Board of Directors that have addressed the challenges with the right collective guidance for the benefit of the vendors and the patrons.

Athens Farmers Market – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
These questions are already answered in part. We are first and foremost a true farmers market. The primary specialty of the market worth emphasizing is the incredible abundance and variety of fresh produce that our farmers bring week after week.

Another feature that makes us proud is our effort to serve the entire community. The Athens Farmers Market was one of the first to provide EBT service to SNAP recipients. In addition, in partnership with the non-profit organization, Wholesome Wave of Georgia, matching dollars are provided for SNAP benefits spent at farmers markets.

Another program in partnership with Wholesome Wave Georgia and various community partners is to offer the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program at our market. Funds are provided to individuals at risk for diet-related medical problems for educational programs and for purchasing healthy food alternatives at the market and then for follow up medical examinations.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success to me is the goal of establishing a sustainable market – 10 years in operation and growing stronger every year. I look at the Athens Farmers Market as a small business incubator. We have been integral in the community support of a number of small farms that have grown to be successful enterprises.

The market was critical in the start of an ongoing success of two local bakeries and a local coffee roasting business. While the market itself is a not-for-profit operation, the organization and support we provide is clearly a part of the success of several local small businesses.

Contact Info:

  • Website: athensfarmersmarket.net
  • Email: marketmanager@athensfarmersmarket.net
  • Instagram: athensfarmersmarket
  • Facebook: Athens Farmers Market

Getting in touch: VoyageATL is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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