Athens Farmers Market Celebrates Longevity, Popularity

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If you're looking for fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods or specialty foods, many people will tell you the Athens Farmers Market is the place to go.

Kip Parker, site manager for the market, is one of the reasons the Athens Farmers Market is thriving. He helps keep the place running.
"I grew up on a farm and the first 18 years of my life, worked on a farm. As I've gotten older, I've missed that, and I wanted to get back to my roots. This way, I'm involved in it, but I don't have to work nearly as hard as most of these
people do," said Parker.
The Farmers Market, located on East State Street, will soon mark its 40th anniversary.
On that first day in 1972, just three vendors turned out.
Now, more than a 100 are on the list.
"We're looking at about 100 now, but we're looking at about 105 this year.  We're limited, partly, by the parking here in the mall.  The store owners don't like it if there's not parking up next to the mall. We try to keep it at a number that will take them into consideration," said Parker.
One of the newest vendors is Jim Crane of Albany.
He owns a kettle corn stand and he just opened for business on the day I visited.
"This is our first opportunity to come to the Athens [farmer's market]. We got on the waiting list last year and it opened up this year. We decided to take advantage of it and I think it's going to work out pretty well," said Crane. "five years ago, I visited Athens and I came to the farmer's market and realized there was no kettle corn here.  Where I came from, every farmer's market had kettle corn. I thought what a perfect opportunity to bring kettle corn to Athens. So I came here four years ago, and things didn't quite work out, and here I am now."
Parker says most other markets are always needing vendors, but Athens is in a unique position: they have a waiting list. The longevity of the market plays a role in the desire for a spot. 
"If your market is five years old, you know, you're just starting to get a customer base going. With venders, it's one of those chicken and egg things. If you don't have enough vendors, customers won't come and if you don't have enough customers, vendors won't come," said Parker.
He says the greatest challenge for a new market is getting enough vendors. 
Parker estimates 55 vendors are selling on the day I visit: a Saturday in April.
That number will be much higher in July and August when sweet corn is being picked, and the customer count will go up, too.
"ACENET [Appalachian Center for Economic Networks], several years ago, did some counts and on the busy July, August, September Saturdays, it averaged between 3,000 and 5,000 a week on a Saturday. July, August, September, that's when you've got the most tomatoes and the most corn, the things that people like," said Parker.
The Athens Farmers Market has blossomed into a community event, a place to meet and greet as well as shop, also a place to stop and listen.
Musicians often play here, hoping customers will drop some money into their collection box.
Parker says an anniversary celebration is planned for June. There will be displays of customer appreciation with discounts and giveaways and Parker says special recognition is planned for the one vendor who has held a spot at the Athens Farmer's Market for the entire 40 years: Wagner's Fruit Farm.