A man restocks his produce at the Athens Farmer's Market. The first two markets of the season were postponed due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo/Jason Born)

The Athens Farmers Market was supposed to begin this past Saturday, March 21 at its Bishop Park location, with people perusing aisles of locally grown produce, flowers, eggs, meats and more. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the park will sit empty indefinitely.

However, a partnership between the Athens Farmers Market and Collective Harvest is making sure locals still have access to the foods and other items they would have otherwise picked up — from kale and asparagus to 1000 Faces Coffee and honey — through an online delivery service.

Iwalani Farfour, the owner of Full Moon Farm and Collective Harvest and acts as a board member for the Athens Farmers Market, said the board moved to postpone the opening of the farmers market in order to protect the safety and health of the community. Yet, as a farmer herself, she understood the impact the closure would be to both farmers and customers.

“The farmers market is a sole income for some of those vendors so it’s really important to get that food out there,” Farfour said. “They’ve already invested months and months of money and energy into growing this food and to not have an outlet for that right now could basically bankrupt them if they can’t move forward.”

Other Collective Harvest partners were also at the meeting and agreed to collaborate with the Athens Farmers Market since the multi-farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program already has an online platform.

Sarah Thurman has been the market manager for the Athens Farmers Market for the past four years and said the partnership seemed like the most effective way it could continue to fulfill its mission of “foster[ing] a dynamic economic and educational connection between community members, farmers, and artisans” because many of the vendors already sell to restaurants and individuals through the CSA.

“We think it’s more important than ever to continue to have access to the highest quality foods that will strengthen their immune system snad support them through these uncertain times,” Thurman said.

Jacqui Coburn, who recently retired from working on her Front Field Farm but remains an active member of Collective Harvest, worked tirelessly alongside Lisa Merva — the general manager for Collective Harvest — for two days to add a wide array of new products to the website.

Coburn is now one of the main organizers for the Online Food Stand and said about 500 people placed orders last week but hopes this number will increase in order to provide a similar amount of business local vendors and companies usually receive from restaurants buying wholesale and larger numbers of opening-day farmers market customers.

“The only thing we could do to try and maintain some of those perks of the market was to be able to represent as many of the vendors as we could as quickly as we could,” Coburn said. “So we're very thankful and happy that we can support the farms and that they can in turn, you know, support their employees.”

Order up

Customers can place their orders between noon on Wednesdays and noon on Fridays to get their orders the following week. While they can choose items “a la carte” from a wide range of offerings, they won’t be able to choose the specific vendor as Collective Harvest is combining the farm produce and fairly dividing the orders amongst the farms, according to its website.

They will then have the option to have their order delivered directly to their homes or pick it up at Collective Harvest’s headquarters on Broad Street.

In addition to offering this new service, Coburn said Collective Harvest has been implementing new sanitary measures to keep farmers, workers and customers safe.

Coburn said they ordered more bleach, sterile gloves and hand sanitizer and installed a new handwashing station where produce is delivered. This station will allow workers to wash their hands in between deliveries and farmers to wash their hands before and after handling their produce.

Much is uncertain amidst the pandemic, but Coburn said Collective Harvest will be operating the Online Farm Stand as long as the Athens Farmers Market isn’t able to take place in-person to provide the same sense of community and camaraderie the weekly gathering brings.

“The market in Athens is very strong, it’s kind of near and dear to a lot of people's hearts,” Coburn said. “I have friends that kind of used to describe it as going to church. You know, it's like a gathering place and feels good to see people.”

Farm Stand Facts:

For more information, please visit the Online Farm Stand’s website

For home deliveries inside the Loop, there’s a $7 fee. For home deliveries outside the Loop, there’s a $10 fee for some addresses.

Products will come from sources such as, but not limited to, Cedar Grove Farm, Diamond Hill Farm, Fry Farm, Hearts of Harvest, Hickory Hill Farm, Lazy Willow Farm, McMullan Family Farm, R&R Secret Farm and Sundance Farm.

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