Even before the pandemic, the West Broad Farmers Market made major changes this spring. The market relocated from its home at the old West Broad School to the parking lot of the Athens Housing Authority. In addition, Ellie Adams took over managing the market.
Adams was no stranger to the market. She raises grass-fed cattle on her farm in Morgan County and produces Wagyu beef. She had been a vendor at the West Broad Farmers Market for four years before becoming the manager in March.
In April, the pandemic required even more changes. The market postponed this year’s physical opening, which had been scheduled for the first weekend in May, Adams said. With the help of the market’s parent organization, the Athens Land Trust, Adams has guided the market through the first months of the pandemic as it switched from in-person shopping to a drive-thru model.
Above average sales, extended reach
The market licensed software developed by another local farmers market, Locally Grown Athens, in order to transition to online-only operations, Adams said. The market started to take online orders during the second week in May, with physical pickup of orders in the market’s new location starting Saturday, May 9.
Over the next two months, online sales rose from 52 orders the opening week to 104 orders July 11, Adams said. “Right now our sales at the online market are above average for a normal shopping week for this time of year compared to years past.”
“Because the market does have such a sense of community, we don’t want to reopen the physical market until we truly feel like we can do it safely.”
Ellie Adams, West Broad Farmers Market manager
Migrating to an online-only business has provided an extra benefit, Adams said. “It has grown our customer reach, which has been wonderful for our vendors.”
Laura Pallas and her husband Cameron Phillips run Buffalo Creek Berry Farm in Lexington, Georgia, and have been vendors at the market since 2019. “The online-order system is simple, with the lowest vendor fees possible. Uploading and updating items is easy,” Pallas said.
The market will continue using this software for an online option, even after the market physically opens to the public, Adams said.
Before the pandemic, the market served as a gathering place for residents, Adams said. “Because the market does have such a sense of community, we don’t want to reopen the physical market until we truly feel like we can do it safely.”
Designed as a neighborhood project
The Athens Land Trust established the West Broad Farmers Market, which operated out of the old West Broad School, to be a neighborhood revitalization project for the underserved West Broad corridor community and to create financial opportunities for entrepreneurs within the community, Adams said. An additional goal was to “provide a valuable outlet for fresh foods and local products to the West Broad corridor.”
Now, the Athens Land Trust is developing a community garden affiliated with the market. It leased a 1.2- acre parcel on Waddell Street, said Cameron Teeter, interim community agriculture director of the Athens Land Trust.
To start, the garden will have 12 raised garden beds with room to expand, and neighborhood residents will organize the garden, Teeter said. “We have been creating and sustaining community gardens in Athens for over 10 years.”
Founded in 1994, the Athens Land Trust nonprofit preserves farmland, so that it can be passed down to future generations, Adams said. The Land Trust also provides affordable housing using donated land and renovation of older homes, she said.