Agatha Coggins, owner of Heaven’s Honey Harvest, has been selling her locally grown honey and skin products at the West Broad Farmers Market since it was started in 2012.
The market has given Coggins a venue to sell her products, while also acting as an educational resource for her and numerous members of the public.
The inspiration of Heaven’s Honey Harvest came from a business class put on by the West Broad Market, and Coggins now sells locally grown honey and multipurpose skin cleaner at the market every Saturday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. from May until the end of the year.
The market has grown in just five years from being a handful of vendors to now having around 10 consistent vendors every week.
“It’s a community thing, and it’s been wonderful,” Coggins said. “It has helped me tremendously, and I’ve met interesting people from all over the world.”
While the market already provides a cultural hub for the community, there’s been talk at the Clarke County School District Board of Education meetings to utilize the West Broad Street School as well.
West Broad Street School is a now-vacant building that was once used in the late 19th century for black students during segregation. The school is now being considered by the board for historic renovations.
Dr. John Knox, District 8 board member of CCSD, said although the property has a long history of different uses, the recent reconsideration was spurred by the Athens Land Trust’s proposal.
“The Athens Land Trust has been trying to do something with the property, and not everyone seems to be on board with that,” Knox said. “I would say that is in many ways the catalyst for this.”
The Athens Land Trust proposed a partnership between themselves, the school and the unified government to let the land trust obtain a long-term lease, where they would continue to put on the farmers market and use the school for community spaces and classrooms.
In the proposal, Athens Land Trust notes Athens-Clarke County would need to provide $3.2 million in 2012 SPLOST funds, which it would then match, to complete the project.
"It’s a community thing, and it’s been wonderful." - Agatha Coggins, vendor
Mayor-elect Kelly Girtz, District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link and District 1 Commissioner Sharyn Dickerson are among those who sent in letters of support to the land trust for this proposal.
Clarke County School District Superintendent Demond Means has proposed using the property for early childhood education and as a health and family resources center.
The proposal from Means did not include any mention of the Farmers Market.
“That was a very short proposal. And it included absolutely nothing about the market or the garden,” Knox said. “I think by the omission of the market and the garden, that would probably be a sign that they would not be included. The other two proposals explicitly included them.”
The last proposal was submitted by Northeast Georgia Business Alliance, a community group supporting African American and Latino businesses, which proposes creating a “West Broad Center for Economic & Cultural Development.” The group’s plan would keep the farmers market and add a museum and music and arts facility, according to the proposal.
Though the school board discussed the propositions at a meeting in March, there has not yet been a date set for when the board will vote to determine the fate of the property.
Clarke County School District 3 board member Linda Davis suspects the propositions won’t be brought up for a vote until late fall.
For those who grew up around or frequent the West Broad Farmers Market, these discussions hit close to home as the possibility of losing their market hangs in the balance.
West Broad chronicles
Coggins' experience with the area didn’t just start with the farmers market.
She was a student at the West Broad Elementary School in the mid 1950s and early ‘60s.
Though there wasn’t a market at that time, there was still a booming garden that was appealing to students and community members alike.
Nancy Stangle, co-founder and treasurer of Athens Land Trust, believes the market and gardens were inspired by the history of the school.
“In 1906, the principal Samuel Harris started garden plots on the side of school for the children to grow food for their families,” Stangle said. “There were classes for the parents and community of cooking and agriculture. It has a heritage of being an agriculture site.”
After public schools in Athens were desegregated in 1963, the West Broad Street School building became the home for Rutland Academy, a school for children with emotional and behavioral disorders.
Rutland Academy moved in 2009, which left the school, owned by the Clarke County School District, vacant. Now, the property is prime real estate for other educational opportunities.
Three years later, a University of Georgia professor began helping different groups start community gardens around town in an effort to fight poverty in Athens.
"We wanted a market where families could have an excess of food grown and a place to sell it." - Nancy Stangle, co-founder of Athens Land Trust
Athens Land Trust members were inspired by this goal, so they asked the school district if they could start a community garden at the West Broad Street School site, Stangle said.
“There was an effort to start community gardens, but we wanted a market where families could have an excess of food grown and a place to sell it,” Stangle said.
A bustling market
This vision started small. At first, Stangle said it was just a farm stand.
“Then there was an interest in other places that wanted to sell,” Stangle said. “We wanted to bring healthy food to [the people around this area], and we wanted to provide education about healthy food — that’s why all the booths have demonstrations.”
Demonstrations range from gardening lessons to helping businesses.
Athens Land Trust also started the Young Urban Farmers, which provides young people with the experience and life skills necessary to have a job.
The children involved could come up with their own business models and operate a booth at the market.
The program started in 2012 with five students on a volunteer basis, Athens Land Trust education director Kelsey Thompson said.
Now, the program has served more than 120 students who have made over $6,000 in sales from their businesses, she said.
“It’s been amazing to watch kids go from day one to graduating from high school, watch them grow and interact with people and see the confidence it gives them,” Thompson said. “The most important thing has been seeing these kids give back to the community and see everything come full circle.”
Correction: A previous version of this story stated the West Broad Garden was started in 2013. The ALT began its community agriculture program in 2010, and the garden was established in 2012. The Red & Black regrets this error and it has since been fixed.