The Athens Farmers Market on Saturday is the social event of the week. The smell of food cooking and the joyful sounds of music compliment the local farmers, producers, and distributors that gather together twice a week on East State Street. The bell opens the market at 10:00 for three hours. The excitement is inspired from the abundance of local organic food, plants, soap, candles, and art for sale. It is enchanting to see a mindful community unite with smiles on their faces as they exchange money, goods, compassion and information. As their baskets and cloth bags become full the support for the local economy grows and the potential for expanding the quality of life in the community continues. The local political and non-profit groups allow for education, generosity, and the relevant news to flow, facilitating democracy through engagement.
Another form of democracy is actively supporting your community by buying locally. The Athens Farmers Market is located at the mall on East State Street, named The Market on State. It is in the parking lot and is easily accessed by the highway or the bike path. Constantine Faller, owner of Athens’ Own and Faller Foods, can always be found near the far entrance of the market cooking something and smiling at everyone. In the two weeks that I have been working at Athens’ Own Constantine and his intern Miles have always cooked local beef hamburgers that have been hung to age, giving it the old fashion taste. Their menu is always changing, but so far I have had their eggs, grilled cheese, raisin oatmeal, and vegetable bean soup with rice. Athens’ Own also sells Dawn Chorus Coffee by the bag or ceramic cup, sweet beef bologna/salami, spicy cashews, pancake/waffle mix and spicy peppers in a jar at the Athens Farmers Market. It takes an hour to prepare the food and pack the truck at the Appalachian Economic Community Network, between five to ten minutes to drive to the market, and another forty-five minutes to set up the Athens’ Own Emergency Response Mobile Field Kitchen along with the other items for sale. It is a lot of work to have a business but from what I understand is worth every minute.
Unfortunately, there is one problem that cannot be ignored at the Athens Farmers Market. The landlords of The Market on State have only given the farmers, distributors, and producers a month to month lease. A month to month lease is only acceptable to gypsies and although the vendors have canopies, they should be respected as the foundation of success and sustainability in the town. On April 6th the owners Brent Hayes and Tom Parfitt decided that they do not want politics at the market. Tom Parfitt was quoted by David DeWitt from Athens News saying, “We’re giving them space down there to sell products. We’re happy to do that. They’re welcome to do whatever they do to help farmers out. But we don’t want any political things down there, no matter what it is.” The problem became apparent when the Bill of Rights Committee was going to collect signatures for a petition to ban hydraulic fracturing from the city of Athens to twenty miles up the Hocking River at the market. Bill Hayes is partnered with two Athens County deep-shale wells and hopes to lease hundreds of acres to expand the hydraulic fracturing operations by the gas and oil companies. Therefore the Bill of Rights Committee was banned from the Athens Farmers Market as well as “ANY POLITICAL THINGS” along with them. It is laughable politics is everywhere and is in the statement itself.
What I have always found interesting about this topic is that farmers are given the choice of leasing their land to compensate for the lack of revenues that their hard work and dedication provides. One in every seven jobs in the state of Ohio is created by Agriculture, yet the struggle for food security continues. Rather than our representatives seeing the hardship, they look at the leasing of farm land as a sign of approval! No farmer wants to jeopardize their business, yet all farmers that have hydraulic fracturing or injection wells on their land or near it are risking their livelihood, inheritance, retirement, air, water and food supply. Gas and Oil companies are not regulated under federal environmental law: The Clean Air and Water Act, The Safe Drinking Water Act, or The Superfund Act. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is not only tasked with approving gas and oil permits but they are also dependent upon the permits to fund their department. The Environmental Protection Agency is not well funded for the increasing demands. They need to be funded to staff all of their sites and conduct research, which it currently cannot do. Until real oversight is created there will be citizens petitioning, protesting, and writing to the paper. The Farmers Market is the appropriate place to be engaging the community.
The real question is where can the Farmers Market be located other than at the East Side Market? It needs to be a large area, have easy access for cars, trailers, and bicycles, the parking needs to be free, and respectful engagement with the democratic process must be allowed. It is time that the nationally recognized Athens Farmers Market be honored with a location of their own. Until then those working at the market talk and share information so no matter what and no matter where you are, there is business as usual.