Farmers Market Talks New Home With State Rural Development Director

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Although talks are only in the beginning stages, the Athens Farmers Market may have found a new home, not too far from its current location.

To mark National Farmers Market Week and to announce recent grant funding awarded to the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet), U.S. Department of Agriculture Ohio Rural Development State Director Tony Logan stopped by the Athens Farmers Market on Wednesday morning.

ACEnet Director of Programs Leslie Schaller also invited Logan to visit a site on East State Street that the Athens Farmers Market hopes could be a new permanent location. They stopped by the former Columbia Gas property on East State Street, which was annexed into the city limits last year.

The Athens Farmers Market has been seeking a new permanent home for the past few years. The market currently operates in the parking lot of The Market on State. The market site was shifted further east in the lot this year to make room for the new Texas Roadhouse restaurant. With new regulations looming — such as a requirement for running water — the market board has been in discussion with the city of Athens regarding a new location.

Schaller said that the former Columbia Gas property — which she said is approximately 15 acres — is one of the top choices for the market board. Athens Farmers Market Manager Kip Parker said that the market was operating on approximately 5 acres of land prior to the opening of Texas Roadhouse.

The proposed site already has access to public utilities and to the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway.

According to Schaller, the market board has had one meeting with the owners of the former Columbia Gas site and discussions are still in the early stages. She said ACEnet is working with the city of Athens to secure grant funding for development of a site for the farmers market.

Schaller said ACEnet is also working with other partners and the executive committee of the Athens Farmers Market Association to design a $700,000 capital campaign for local and regional donors to contribute to the purchase of a permanent site. She said the campaign is still in the design phase, but will likely be launched this fall.

She pointed out that the city of Athens would actually be the one to purchase and own the land.
Parker said the Athens Farmers Market would be open to any kind of partnership for the site as the market only operates three days a week. Schaller added that if the land is purchased and a building could be constructed on the site, it could be used to also house the children’s discovery museum (which is currently located inside The Market on State) and the Athens Local Professional Artists and Craftsmen Association (ALPACA) art market.

Schaller told Logan and Jeanne Wilson, community liaison for Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office, to keep an eye out for funding opportunities to fund a permanent home for the market. She said the market hopes to find a new home in the next couple years.

The main purpose of Logan’s visit was to congratulate ACEnet on its receipt of a $30,000 Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program grant to provide food technical assistance, training and access to capital support for many local food and farm entrepreneurs.

“As one of only 10 Microenterprise Development Organizations nationwide chosen to receive this funding, ACEnet is in elite territory,” Logan said.

Logan emphasized the collaboration between ACEnet, which serves Ohio’s 32 Appalachian counties, and the Athens Farmers Market, which is in its 43rd year.

“It makes good sense to amplify this grant during National Farmers Market Week,” he said. “The longstanding partnership between ACEnet and the Athens Farmers Market exemplifies how the Microentrepreneur Assistance Program is designed to run: USDA works closely with local organizations who then invest in rural small businesses — such as farmers market vendors — that otherwise might not have access to the capital they need to flourish. And because of the leadership of historic markets like Athens, the state of Ohio now ranks fourth in the number of farmers markets nationwide.”

Logan also talked about the recent problems in Toledo in which a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie contaminated the city’s water source, leaving approximately 500,000 without water for three days. He said the main cause for the algae bloom is fertilizer runoff from commercial farms. Logan said that Athens has shown that there’s an alternative way to farm and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by the state.