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This weblog contains news and the weblog entries from all the markets currently using the system.

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Athens Locally Grown:  News for the Week

I’ve mostly got my computer problems at home sorted out. It took getting a brand new computer to fix some of the trouble, and the rest just comes with living in a rural area without access to true broadband internet. But, things are better to the point that I can send you what I’d wanted to on Sunday.

First, now that the veggies are coming in, Thursday pickups are busier than ever. We’ll be tweaking out system to allow more orders filled at a time, but still our volunteers are working non-stop for hours to get everything filled. There’s a few things you can do to help the process. First, double check our work to make sure you get everything on your invoice. If we forget to give something to you and the item is labelled, I’ll know to give you a refund. A good number of things, though (meats, dairy, breads) have no label, so we don’t know who should have gotten it. Second, our growers are dropping everything off between 3:30 and 4:30. If they all arrive early, we can often get set up with time to spare, but more often than not, we’re all running around trying to get organized before we “open the doors” to you at 4:30. Please understand that if you arrive at 4pm and demand that we fill your order early, we probably won’t be able to help you (and indeed, we’re probably still waiting on produce to arrive). We’ll open early if we can, but our first priority will be to get organized so that the following three and a half hours go smoothly. Finally, I start making reminder phone calls to everyone who hasn’t arrived by 7:30. Lately, there have been so many that it takes my 20 minutes or more to make it through the list. If you have a cell phone number, make sure that you’ve listed it on your account (you can do so in the “Your Account” page of the site). I spend most of my calling time leaving messages on home answering machines and voice mail. Reaching a person speeds things up considerably.

We’re also expanding our volunteer workforce. We’ll be having five volunteers plus myself working each week. If you’d like to get on the list, please send me an email. I’ve got a core group that are working most weeks, but I’d like to get more trained up that can fill in from time to time. Volunteers get $50 credit for working about five hours.

Finally, I’m sad to say that I can see the day when Gosford Wine won’t work well any more. It’s already very crowded with customers, and we have veggies spread out over much of the back parking lot. I’d hate to leave, as both the place and the people there have been wonderful to us, and I’ll keep us there as long as I can. But if we keep growing at the rate we have been over the past year, we won’t make it through summer there. I’m not sure where we’d go—the ideal place would be indoors, with lots of room to spread out, and plenty of parking. The fellowship halls at those large churches on Prince Avenue come to mind, for instance. I’d like your input, though. Specifically, what changes would make you less likely to order from us?

Changing the subject, there are a couple events coming up you might be interested in. First is the Southern Seed Legacy’s Old Timey Seed Swap out by Crawford on April 26th. This event, organized by Locally Grown member Jim Veteto, draws people from all over the Southeast and features live music, barbeque, a tour of the heritage farm, the seed swap itself, and other activities. My first visit was last year, and I was nine years overdue. One highlight was an heirloom tomato grower from North Carolina who arrived with hundreds of tomato seedlings of many varieties I’d never heard of. He sold them for $1 each with all the proceeds going to the Southern Seed Legacy. All of the tomatoes out of our garden came from his plants. You can find more information, including a map to the farm, at the website linked above.

Second, the state Ag Department is holding a free egg candling school in Athens on May 20th. This free class is required for everyone who wants to sell eggs at retail. I know quite a few of you are thinking about or have gotten a small flock of backyard hens. Even if you’re not planning on selling your eggs, going through this class is a great way to learn about safe egg handling. If you’re interested, call Wayne Marks at 1-800-786-0175.

Finally, the new Athens Farmers Market has been officially announced. This will be held at Bishop Park on Saturdays from 8am to 1pm starting on May 17th, and will be limited to organic and sustainable growers—just like Athens Locally Grown. Many of the growers who sell at our market will also be at that one (but not the dairies, by federal law), so you’ll be able to shop at either one or both and be assured of getting local and sustainably grown food. This market will replace the one that has been held at Big City Bread the past seven or so years. I’ll have more details about the new market’s grand opening celebration as it gets closer.

That’s plenty of news for now. Thanks so much for all of your support, and we’ll see you on Thursday at Gosford Wine! Stay warm these few nights of winter!

Athens Locally Grown:  Availability for April 17

I’m fighting some technology problems at home that has kept me from even looking at the website, but I’ll go ahead and turn it on.

I’ll send another email tomorrow with news and so forth.


Athens Locally Grown:  Availability for April 10

This cold, damp weather is exactly what the spring plants love, and so you’ll see a number of new items this week. There’s over 340 items altogether, and hopefully plenty of most things to go around.

The herbs especially love this weather, and there’s a large selection there. The young beets are starting to come in, both tops and some roots, along with carrots, greens of all sorts, onions, green garlic, and other goodies. There’s even a few surprise tomatoes and summer squash from Michael McMullan’s greenhouse.

The amount of items available isn’t the only thing growing, either. Last week we crossed 1000 households with accounts at the market. Thank you all for continuing to tell your friends about us. Demand for locally and naturally grown foods is stronger than ever, and all of our growers are increasing their plantings this year to do their best to keep up.

One last thing… don’t let the recent wet spell lull you into complacency. Athens still had nearly 30% less rain than average for March, and with a few exceptions, the water table and reservoirs for all of North Georgia are well below where they were at this time last year.

Thanks again for all your support. All of our growers truly appreciate it, and indeed wouldn’t be here without it. We’ll see you on Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at Gosford Wine!

Athens Locally Grown:  Availability for April 3

It’s clear that our market keeps growing in every way, and here’s another sign: I just sent out essentially collection letters to customers with past due balances for a total due over $550. It’s the first time we’ve ever done that in seven years (and as far as “normal” business goes, the total is astonishingly small).

I know many of you reading this email have joined us in the past year, so it’s probably high time I spell out the financials of how our market operates on the business end. If this doesn’t interest you, feel free to jump straight to the website, where you’ll find a number of new items listed this week.

First off, we’re legally a “sole Proprietorship”. When the market started in 2002, it was named “Locally Grown Cooperative”, but it was never legally organized as a co-op. Dan & Kris Miller, the founders, were always sure to run things in a cooperative spirit, and when they handed the business to my wife and I in 2004, we’ve tried to do the same thing. I’ve renamed it to “Athens Locally Grown”, but you’ll still hear a number of people refer to us as “the co-op”.

We’re not a non-profit, either, but we’ve structured things so that over time the market can cover its own expenses. When things are good, it covers ours too. Just like all of our member farms are sustainable growers, the market itself needs to be sustainable. I’m still finalizing the tax figures for last year, but it looks like we might have broken even for the first time. Either way, it was close. My wife and I do not get paid, and for now that’s working out for us.

So how does the market cover its expenses? One small way is through the memberships you pay. The $25 a year you give to the market is enough (to put it bluntly) to cover the costs of having you as a customer: banking fees from depositing your checks, paper and ink for printing invoices, Web hosting fees, and that sort of thing. What’s left over goes to helping fund farm tours, food donations to like-minded area groups and events, etc. We currently have about 375 paid members out of the just over 1000 accounts on the website.

By far the bulk of our funding comes from the growers themselves. They generally pay a 10% commission on their sales through the site. The dairies in South Carolina pay a few percent more to help cover our transportation costs, since by federal law we have to go to them to pick up your orders. This money covers the many coolers we use, the tables and cots used to spread out and organize your orders in the back, the truck we recently bought, gasoline, the food allowance we offer our volunteers, etc. During the winter, the sales are not enough to cover our weekly costs, but in the summertime there is extra. Last year, it all evened out in the end.

We pay our growers when they drop off their sales, during the hour before we open the market. Then, you arrive and pay us for our order. We then rush to the bank to deposit the money to cover the checks we just wrote. As explained elsewhere on the website, you are really ordering directly from and paying the growers yourself, but our shared cashbox system makes things convenient for you and them. (Imagine if you ordered from ten growers having to write ten checks when you picked up your items!) This shared cashbox system has so far satisfied the tax man, but it does mean that if you place an order and then never arrive to pick it up, we’re left holding the bag. For that reason, you are responsible for paying for orders not picked up, and that amount is automatically added on to your next order for your convenience.

So, in probably far too much detail, that’s how we operate. Our market is more expensive to run than a traditional “booths and tables” farmers market, the that price buys a system that’s simple, time-saving, flexible, and in my opinion, just better. There’s no money in the bank, but the market is paying for itself. And that means that should my wife and I not be able to continue managing it for whatever reason, someone else can without having to worry about sinking a lot of time and money into keeping it going.

I’ve gone on long enough. Thank you all for your constant support. We’ll see you on Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at Gosford Wine!

Athens Locally Grown:  Availability for March 27

I hope you all had a good Easter weekend. Mine was very productive, thanks to my own personal migrant workers (as my parents call themselves). They always come visit from Missouri over Easter to help with spring chores. This year, I put them to work building and filling the first 16 of my Square Foot Gardening beds. I probably should have rented a cement mixer, as mixing by hand the compost, peat moss, and vermiculite needed to fill those boxes was hard work. You can see the results of our labors on our farm’s photo album here.

There’s a number of new items this week. The first will be good news to those of you who remember the wonderful baked goods sold by Whole Earth GRanary over a year ago. That business is gone, but their baker, Jeff Nunes, is now baking using the same methods at the Black Cow Coffeehouse & Bakery in Honea Path, South Carolina. He’ll be listing more products in the weeks to come, but you’ll find five types of bread made from freshly milled grains listed this week.

In other news, several of you asked last year about locally raised heritage turkeys for Thanksgiving. Believe it or now, the time to think about those things is now. New Locally Grown growers Nature’s Harmony Farm in Elberton is raising turkeys this year, and are now taking deposits for Thanksgiving delivery. Details are on their own website, and they expect to be sold out for the year by May.

Thanks again for all your support of our local growers! We’ll see you on Thursday from 4:30pm to 8pm at Gosford Wine.

Athens Locally Grown:  Availability for March 20

What a weekend for weather. I hope you were spared the brunt, where ever you may be. I was a little tense on Saturday. I was in Atlanta, taking my daughter to see a kid’s concert, and during the show four separate tornado warnings for my neighborhood were issued (and notices sent to my cell phone). My home phone line went dead, so I didn’t know what I’d find when I got home. There was only a lot of limbs down, things blown around the yard, so so forth—nothing bad at all. Three years ago, while I was at the Locally Grown drop off in fact, one went directly over our house, bouncing over our ridge but taking out homes on either side. So, I’m a little jumpy about these things now.

Anyway, you’ll find more of the same veggies on the site this week, but in a little greater quantity. There are a few new things, too, including plants for around your house. Those of you craving granola from Mertie’s Oven will find some listed this week as well.

There’s a couple events next weekend you might be interested in. First, Georgia Organics is hosting a full day workshop in Decatur Saturday called “Organic Growing 101”. Several of you have been asking about workshops on this topic, so if you can attend on this short notice, now’s your chance. You can find more info and RSVP here on the GO website. Also next Saturday is the closing of the “Ingest” art exhibit at Athica, in Athens. The closing has a lot of events associated, including performances Friday, a Slow Food brunch on Saturday followed by discussions on local organic farming and gardening and a demonstration of rain barrels for saving water. More information can be found at their website.

Finally, a number of Athens Locally Grown growers came into Athens this afternoon instead of taking advantage of the lovely day to work in their gardens. They put together the semi-final plans for a new Saturday farmers market in town. I’ll let you know more when the plans become more final, but the intent is to open on the first week of May. Many growers are selling everything they have through Athens Locally Grown, but others rely on both markets to support them working on the farm full time. A better, more active Saturday market can only help all of us.

Thanks for all of your support! We’ll see you on Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at Gosford Wine!

Athens Locally Grown:  Availability for March 13

This was the first weekend I really had a chance to get out and work in the garden, so I tried to make the most of it. We’re rotating our beds over to a section we haven’t grown on in four years. Three years ago, it was the chickens’ pasture. We lost all of our hens that year to a large and well-fed red fox, and I hadn’t touched that area since then. It had gotten completely overgrown with a mix of fescue grass, ragweed, brambles, and other weeds. They’d grown into the poultry netting that was supposed to keep the fox out. They overgrew the drip tape I’d left in the beds. It took a lot of muscle to rip all that out, but now the beds are ready to use again for growing.

Freshly inspired by the Georgia Organics conference of last week, I’ve decided to get back to my roots somewhat. I’ve been growing vegetables all my adult life, and never were my gardens so productive and easy to manage as when I strictly followed the square foot method. When I made the leap from large garden to growing for market, I tried to apply the techniques to the larger scale I thought was needed for growing for market. It was overall a success the years I kept with it, but it wasn’t as productive and frankly not as fun as when I had my 4 foot by 4 foot boxes. Now that I see that other farms much larger than mine do all of their growing in those 4×4 boxes, I’m going back to them.

So, yesterday I got the lumber needed for the first 35 and started putting them together today. It’ll take a couple weeks to get them all in, but that’ll be just the beginning. I calculated that there’s room for 500 of those boxes in the areas I’ve been growing in the past five years. It’ll take time (and resources) to put all those in, but Im looking forward to it.

But enough about my gardens! The veggie list looks pretty much exactly the same as last week. There’s still one or two growers that haven’t checked in, but their stuff should be listed shortly. We’re running out to Milky Way and Split Creek dairies this week, so you’ll find both of their full ranges of products listed.

Don’t forget that Easter is early this year, just two weeks from today. This is one year where everyone’s math gave different results, so Passover and Orthodox Easter isn’t until next month. But, if you celebrate western Easter, you may want to stock up on eggs now to make them a bit easier to peel next week—older eggs don’t cling to the shells as hard as fresh ones do.

Thanks for all of your support! We’ll see you on Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at Gosford Wine.

Athens Locally Grown:  Availability for March 6

We’re back from the Georgia Organics conference, where we and six hundred other people from Georgia and beyond shared knowledge and enthusiasm to further our collective goal for getting more sustainable grown foods on all of our plates. We started off on Thursday with a tour of Sequatchie Cove Farm in Sequatchie, Tennessee. Besides being as picturesque a place as can be, it was exciting to see their heritage breed pork and dairy program, their vegetable gardens, their orchards, and the rest of their operation. On Friday, Vivian and I visited Etcetera Farms, a small market farm about the same size of my own nestled in a wooded mountain saddle run by former Athenians Chad & Lisa McKinney. Their place is a testament to how many families can be fed in a small space, even when the existing soils are full of rock and clay. We also visited Riverview Farms, a 750 care family farm raising pork, grass-fed beef, and a tremendous amount of organic vegetables. They are an example of a conventional operation making the transition to an organic one, making the farm more financially successful and keeping it in the family in the process.

Among the many educational sessions during the conference was a full half day on Square Foot Gardening, which I was happy to see. I began gardening with that method during my college years, and over time it evolved to the half acre I’ve got cultivated today. It’s easy to sustainably grow an amazing amount of food in a small space this way, and when combined with the ease of bringing your produce to market through Locally Grown, I see home gardeners helping us wean ourselves off our current food system fueled in so many ways by petroleum. If you’ve got a garden, and your grow in an organic, sustainable way (talk to me if you’re not sure what that means), and you’re interested in sharing your harvest with your neighbors through Athens Locally Grown, contact me. We’re nearly up to 1000 accounts now on the website, and even with the current group of over 50 growers it’ll be hard to feed everyone.

Thanks again for all the support you continue to show Athens Locally Grown and our growers. We’ll see you on Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at Gosford Wine!

Athens Locally Grown:  Availability for February 28

My family will be on the road again this week, this time to attend the annual Georgia Organics conference held this year up in Dalton. Our first conference was in 2000, held in a few rooms at the lodge in the state park up in Helen. This year, there are over 600 registered attendees. Growers, distributors, and eaters (all three in my case) come together to share knowledge in the hopes of getting more locally organically grown food on more plates in Georgia and elsewhere. It’s always one of the highlights of my year.

Since we’ll be gone, Michael McMullan (of McMullan Family Farm) is again making the run out to the dairies to get your milk and cheese orders, and the pickups on Thursday should go on as normal. The regular crew of volunteers are so on the ball that I tend to just get in the way anymore.

You’ll find a few new items added on this week. More lettuce mixes and other salad greens, some kale, arugula, and other signs of spring are on the list. It didn’t make it this week, but I’ve been told the asparagus ought to arrive pretty much at any moment. Everything else is right behind. There will still be plenty of freezes this winter (including a night or two in the twenties this week), but with the recent rains things are pretty much just right for a bountiful spring harvest.

We all thank you for your continued support, and our market volunteers will see you on Thursday from 4:30 to 8pm at Gosford Wine!

Athens Locally Grown:  Abailability for February 21

The veggie list is continuing to grow this week as several other farms awaken from their winter slumber. As is usually the case, my own farm is a bit late to the game—we’re only just now putting together our seed order.

The recent rains have been more than welcome. It seems like we’ve had a nice moist winter when compared to the dry summer, but its important to remember that we’re already at a deficit for the year and that the resevoirs are in far worse shape than they were at this time last year. Ignore what the politicians are saying by relaxing water restrictions and providing recreational exemptions – we’re still needing much more rain than we’re used to getting.

By growing sustainably, the Athens Locally Grown growers are well ahead of the game when it comes to reducing water usage. But it means a lot of work, laying drip hoses, applying fresh mulch, digging beds to optimize water flow, containing rain water, and so forth. We’re beginning to plan our series of farm tours for the year, and if you attend any of them, be sure to get a glimpse of how our sustainable growers make use of the water we have. We don’t just not spray chemicals and call it a day – we’re protecting our water, our soil, and all of our resources.

Thanks again for all of your support. We’re plannig hard to make this year Athens Locally Grown’s best year yet! We’ll see you on Thursday from 4:30pm to 8pm at Gosford Wine.