Experience the Athens Farmers Market

Whether the sun shines down, baking everything to a sweaty crisp, or the first frost of winter blows through the barren tree branches, the Farmers Market in Athens, OH stands strong. The hardworking farmers welcome patrons with friendly smiles and tantalizing samples of crisp produce. For two days each week, you can count on these farmers being set up and ready to go before many people even open their eyes in the morning.

Pumpkins grown by Mitch's Produce and Greenhouse
Pumpkins grown by Mitch’s Produce and Greenhouse

Every Wednesday and Saturday, from 9 a.m. to noon, the Athens Farmers Market thrives. When the chill of December sets in, the event is cut down to a Saturday-only time frame until the weather warms again in April. The fresh produce changes with the season, but the vendors are (for the most part) the same year round.

You can always count on the little old man selling his wife’s delicious pies, complete with cut-out-heart-crust toppings. His favorite is black raspberry, and I agree with him. The filling-to-crust ratio is nothing short of perfection.

“Sometimes, when there are leftovers, she scoops up the extra black raspberry filling into crust, and folds it over. Like a little fried pie! It’s delicious,” he says.

Continuing down the line of vendors, it seems there are endless amounts of fresh produce. With fall fading to winter, baskets overflow with sweet potatoes. Boxes showcase piles of pumpkins and butternut squash, ready for baking into sweet Thanksgiving dishes. The sweet corn of summer is no more. Instead, farmers provide the beautiful Indian corn, fine for popcorn or fall décor.

Enjoying the sweet almond raspberry tartelette from Z Bakery
Enjoying the sweet almond raspberry tartelette from Z Bakery

While the farmers are aplenty, you can also find local bakeries and restaurants selling their products under tarp-covered tents. Artisan breads, warm pizza, and sweet tartelettes are sold by Jackie O’s, Avalanche Pizza, and Z Bakery. These treats don’t disappoint. The sweet almond raspberry tartelette from Z Bakery is the perfect size to enjoy for breakfast while walking down the extensive aisle of fresh foods.

On a lucky day, you can be greeted with any number of free samples. Savory cheeses, vibrant salsas, crisp apples, and bold dips await the leisurely shoppers toting environmentally-friendly bags filled with fresh finds.

“Do you like this garlic dip?” says one farmer. The dip is flavorful atop a crunchy slice of sweet potato. “Here’s the recipe. I made it because I really need to sell more sweet potatoes,” she says. I fall for her sales tactics and buy a basket of sweet potatoes.

Many people receive more samples as they pass the Cantrell Honey table.

“Didn’t you know that redheads get honey straws today?” The vendor’s smile and attitude is sweeter than the honey he hands to me. Oftentimes, there are children at the market, with tiny feet running from parents and tinier fingers clutching tightly to their free honey straws.

At the Market, kindness overflows more than the produce overflows its containers. Warm chitchat fills the quiet morning air. The farmers extend graciousness to shoppers, maintaining a strong relationship and making regulars of the customers. The volume of voices increases as the late-risers bustle in before noon, when the sun is directly overhead and the vendors start folding in their tents and packing away their leftovers.

When leaving the Athens Farmers Market, there is excitement. The excitement of farmers, who leave with a reward for their hard work. The excitement of shoppers, ready to craft meals from the produce made by all of the hands they just shook while buying that produce. The excitement to return within a week, hungry for more.

Pumpkin shortage at Athens’ local farms

The Gold Family Farm, a local farm, nestled six miles southwest of Ohio University has been a hotspot for pumpkin picking in years past. But this year, the pumpkin pickings are slim.

In 1937, the parents of current owner, Julie Garner, started the farm, growing mostly produce and raising a small amount of cows, hogs and chickens. They harvested everything from hay to corn and tomatoes to peppers.

By 2005, Mr. Gold passed away and Garner and her husband moved back to their hometown and asked Mrs. Gold to take over the farm and name it in honor of their favorite man, Mr. Gold.

Since 2005, the couple has maintained great business at the farm, hosting a pick your own pumpkin patch and hay rides, as well as selling their produce. Unfortunately, over the past two years the harvest has failed to produce a substantial crop thanks to uncooperative weather.

Because of the lack of harvest, the farm has barely brought in any money and the pick your own pumpkin patch has been cancelled for the second year in a row, upsetting customers.

Five years ago, the Garner’s created a solution for mediocre harvests, a flea market, as a way to bring in people and money during the years that didn’t fare so well. In 2010, the farm hosted only 10 vendors, but this past weekend they had a remarkable 99 vendors set up selling natural foods, crafts and hand-made items.

Their Facebook page is filled with positive feedback and excitement about the flea market’s success. Despite overwhelming success with the flea market, it is still difficult for the farm to stay afloat.

Thank you to everyone who came out to our Flea Market this year. We appreciate your support. I wish to thank the vendors…

Posted by The Gold Family Farm on Sunday, October 18, 2015

“I think this will be the last year for the farm. We will probably keep a small garden but this year will be it for the farm,” Garner said.

Two years without a successful harvest put the Garner’s in a difficult position. But both agree that it is time to give the farming life a rest and move along and start pursuing other dreams and goals.

“It’s definitely bitter sweet. We are sad about it in a lot of ways. Sure we will miss it but we have other adventures,” Garner said.

Customers are also upset to see the traditional farm go.

“My organization has held a sisterhood event there and it was a great time! This year we couldn’t go because they had no pumpkins. It was a bummer,” Haley Stultz, a senior at Ohio University, said.