By Lauren McDonald
Pickle ball, a combination of badminton, tennis and ping pong, was the unexpected topic of discussion at the meeting on how to renovate Bishop Park.
And a new pickle ball court may be one of many changes soon to come to the park.
About 30 Athens citizens participated in a public input session on Wednesday night, to give feedback on the new master plan proposal for renovations to Bishop Park, one of Athens most popular community sites.
“We’re looking at the whole park,” said Kevan Williams, an Athens park planner heading the project. “And making sure that it’s meeting the community’s needs.”
Emily Carr, who comes to Bishop Park regularly to walk and to visit the Athens Farmers Market, completed a survey at the meeting, She said the new master plan seems feasible.
“I thought the changes were realistic,” Carr said. “They weren’t high in the sky, that we don’t have money for. They made some real improvements.”
Major changes proposed include parking lot renovations, an 8,000 square-foot Wellness Center, an expansion of the Gymnastics Center and new rental pavilions.
Park planners also proposed an 18,000 square-foot event pavilion and plaza, which would be the home of the Athens Farmers Market.
Carr, who has lived in Athens for 44 years, remembers visiting the park in 1968, when it was just a fair ground.
Bishop Park, located at 705 Sunset Drive, was built 40 years ago and has undergone no major renovation since the 1970s.
The growing Athens community has since then developed different needs from the park, Williams said. The use of the park and the neighborhood around it have changed significantly.
Also, many of the park’s structures are no longer up to code.
The 33-acre park is relatively small compared to others parks in the community. Trail Creek Park is nearly 100 acres, and Sandy Creek Park is almost 800 acres.
“But this is a very dense park in terms of the scale of activities,” Williams said.
“It gets almost 400,000 visits a year. So this is a big project in terms of its significance, even if it’s not big in terms of its physical footprint.”
The Athens Park Planning Department enlisted the help of the University of Georgia’s Center for Community Design and Preservation back in October 2014 to garner public input.
A team of UGA students and faculty conducted online surveys and in-park surveys. They also consulted park planning staff and the Bishop Park workers.
Jarrad Holbrook, a student who worked on the project, said the most glaring renovation needs when he first began were restructuring of the parking lot and updates to buildings.
“First and foremost, that whole parking lot was a mess. It’s set up kind of like a maze, the turns are too sharp,” Holbrook said. “We also saw that there were clearly issues with some buildings. One particular building looked like it had been built temporarily, and then temporary became 15, 20 years.”
The CCDP hosted a public input session last year to get initial suggestions from the community on renovations they’d like to see, and the park planners incorporated many of those suggestions into the new master plan.
“People liked that the park is easy to access, and there’s something for everybody,” Lewis said. “It allows non-traditional uses, like the Farmer’s Market. It’s more than just a sports park. So they liked that it was good for families, and people, whether they’re doing group activities or whether they’re just going solo to run or walk with the dog.”
The public also asked for an indoor aquatics facility and a dog park, but planners did not included those requests into the new plan, due to cost and space requirements.
Park planners aim to ensure that Bishop Park offers “a little bit of everything for all people.”
“If you come here at different times, you’ll see a lot of real diversity of people that use this park,” Carr said. “In Athens in a lot of places, even though we’re a very integrated town, you can live your life with only seeing people that look like you. When you come to parks like this, you see lots of different kinds of folks.”
Once Park Planning Department confirms the master plan, the focus will move to funding for the project. Williams said funds may come from a special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) or from donations.
“There’s a lot of interest right now in wellness,” Williams said. “So we’re hoping right now that through partnerships with different organizations we may be able to attract some support for parts of the park that might support those goals.”
The department hasn’t set a timeline for completion yet. The department will move forward with the plan based on the community’s feedback.
So far, the department has received over 500 survey responses, including those received at Wednesday’s session.
“The feedback’s been really good,” Williams said. “It’s always kind of exciting when you put a big idea out there, to see how people are going to take that and what things people will pick up on.”
And Williams said a new pickle ball court will be considered when they begin redrafting the master plan.
“We’ll look at ways to look at their ideas and make sure we’re not leaving anything out,” he said. “That’s sort of the point of doing this – to make sure that everybody has a chance to make sure that their voice is being heard.”
By Lauren McDonald
A young farmer discovered last month at the Georgia Organics Conference that his farm has formed a reputation among Georgia farmers.
“They would ask me, ‘What does your farm do?’” said Nathan Brett, owner of DaySpring Farms. “I’d tell them ‘We produce stone mill flour.’”
“Oh, you guys are the stone mill flour guys.”
Brett laughed and replied, “Yeah, that’s us.”
Customers will return to the Athens Farmers Market on April 4 at Bishop Park, and Brett is one of several young farmers who have emerged as local market celebrities.
“We heard that soon enough, instead of having celebrity chefs we would have celebrity farmers,” said Jan Kozak, manager of the Athens Farmers Market. “And lo and behold, we’ve got some farmers in our local market that are not necessarily celebrities but have done a good job of marketing themselves to where they’re really recognizable.”
DaySpring Farms is one of the nearly 100 small farms in and around Athens-Clarke County, all of which contribute to what Kozak calls a “burgeoning” local food scene.
“In the case of Athens, we have a fairly young farmer scene, and all that really contributes to the really great, vibrant local food scene that we have,” Kozak said.
Brett and his father Murray opened DaySpring Farms in 2011 in Danielsville, about 20 miles outside of Athens.
DaySpring Farms produces organically certified wheat, corn and produce. The 90-acre farm’s most well-known feature is its stone mill, which grounds wheat into flour.
“There may be a handful of other farms in Georgia that are growing organic wheat,” Brett said.
DaySpring Farms has expanded rapidly since it began four years ago.
The farm produced 30,000 pounds of organic wheat in 2014. Brett said they hope to sell 60,000 pounds this year.
But before 2011, Brett had very little interest in running his own farm.
Brett studied music business at the University of Georgia until 2008. He then moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue a career as a musician.
He dreamed of seeing his name up in lights.
“For the better part of my college career and afterwards, I was very intent on making a name for myself as a singer, songwriter or performer,” Brett said. “I wanted to the next Ryan Adams or Bob Dylan.”
His father convinced him to make a career in farming instead.
“He grew up on a farm in South Georgia,” Brett said. “He moved away from the farm to go to school. He says that he wishes he had never left. In about 2009, he got in my ear and talked me into moving back to the farm.”
So the Brett family bought a piece of foreclosed property in Danielsville.
DaySpring Farms sprung up on the local Athens food scene by taking part in the Farmers Market and building a client base. The farm began with just three acres of wheat.
Their biggest buyers have been Heirloom Café and the Independent Bakery, Brett said. Last month, he also began selling to The National and Five & Ten in Athens.
Chef Hugh Acheson, owner of The National and Five & Ten, buys 70 percent of food for both restaurants locally.
He said several new young farmers like Brett have sprung up on the local food scene in Athens lately, many of whom are finding ways to distinguish themselves, just like Brett has done by grinding his own flour.
“There’s a lot of new people doing some really cool stuff,” Acheson said. “As much as there’s new stuff on the rise, though, there’s also a lot of old timers that I still want to support.”
Brett said the Athens community recognizes the stone flour mill as his farm’s trademark, which he said improves his sales, as well as his notoriety.
DaySpring Farms has more control over where it sells crops, Brett said, because it owns its own stone mill. The farm can grind and store the flour because the mill is on-site, rather than outsourcing to a separate mill.
Brett keeps his business viable by storing and then selling the wheat throughout the year.
Brett did not expect to develop a passion for organic, sustainable farming.
In the past four years, though, he said his goal has become to share this philosophy with the Athens community, and he hopes to use his new-found fame to do so.
“Not only is there a need for farmers to produce real food, but it’s also extremely important to be a productive contributing member to society,” Brett said. “Farmers have an extremely unique responsibility in that. They provide one of the most essential things to the local community, and that’s food. Responsible farmers lead to more responsible communities.”
Brett no longer aspires to be a celebrity. Today, he only hopes to sustain his business, educate the community on organic farming and spend time with his wife and 3-month-old son.
“Living with that kind of mentality where you want to see your name in lights can be pretty damaging,” he said. “I’m grateful to have moved away from that, and I don’t really care if people know who I am. If I can provide a good living for my family, then I’m happy for that.”
A dozen small plates sit on a table at the Athens Farmers Market under a sign that reads, “Educational Activity.” On top of each plate is a small pile of a green leafy plant—but it’s not lettuce. It’s Kale. These small sample plates are part of an Athens Farm to School initiative to introduce kids to new healthy foods.
Childhood Health Risk in Georgia
Childhood obesity is a prevalent issue in the state of Georgia with, 40 percent of children ages 10 to 17 being considered overweight according to national statistics. The Athens Farm to School program seeks to address the nutrition concerns of Georgia’s Clarke County Public Schools.
Last month in the Brenda Fitzgerald, commissioner of public health for the state of Georgia raised concerns about Georgia’s childhood obesity rates at the State of Public Health Conference, hosted at the University of Georgia. Fitzgerald cited Georgia’s Student Health and Physical Education Partnership (SHAPE) physical fitness test result for 2012 as a cause for this concern.
Only 16 percent of Georgia’s schoolchildren passed the five-part physical fitness test, said Fitzgerald–with 20 percent of Georgia students failing all five parts of the physical fitness test.
The results of Georgia’s Annual Fitness Assessment Program Report revealed 43 percent of students in 1st-grade through 12th-grade did not meet healthy standards of BMI—a measure of a person’s body weight compared to their height.
These results indicate that over 40 percent of students in Georgia school are considered unhealthily overweight.
Not a single Clarke County Public school was listed on the governor’s SHAPE honor roll which recognizes excellence in physical fitness reporting and student wellness.
Farm to School Program
One step that Clarke County had taken to improve the health of its students is to improve the nutrition of their lunches by incorporating more farm grown fresh items in their cafeterias.
“Farm to School programs connects schools with local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias,” reads the CCSD Farm to School website.
The Athens Farm to School program focuses on, “improving student nutrition, providing health and nutrition education opportunities that will last a lifetime, and supporting local small farmers.”
Farm to School is a national program that is run on a state and regional level across the country. Established in Georgia in 2007 Farm to School programs aim to increase the amount of locally-grown food served in school lunches.
Clarke County serves an estimated 10,000 school lunches per day, with about 78% of its students receiving free or reduced cost lunches.
“Children also learn from their lunches,” said Stacy Smith initiator of the Farm to School Program in Athens. “Being exposed to a well-balanced healthy lunch can help form their future eating habits and exposing them to new vegetables and tastes can make them better eaters now and in the future.”
Smith recognizes obesity as an important statewide issue and poverty as a local issue that can both be addressed by the Farm to School program. “For many kids, the meals they get at school are very important to them, so it is important that they are getting healthy meals.”
Nutrition in Clarke County Schools
The Clarke County School districts employs nutrition directors to develop school lunch menus and a staff of over 20 nutrition managers that address individual schools nutritional needs.
“Our meal pattern requires that at least one entree, two vegetables, two fruits, and milk be offered each day,” said Hillary Savage a nutrition director from the Clarke County School District.
Food served in Clarke County schools is reviewed by two registered dietitians to evaluate its nutritional profile, said Savage. “Nutrient density is key. We look for well-rounded products that will appeal to students.”
Clarke County posts their cafeteria menus online monthly. The menus highlight the Georgia-grown foods served each month.
“We do not know the exact number [of local foods served] per say, but we try to spotlight a different locally-grown item each week. These items are generally fruits and vegetables,” said Savage. More of the food served is locally-grown than advertised suspects Savage, including Mayfield Milk and Georgia raised poultry.
Aprils featured local food include, TurnipGreens from Lyons, Cabbage from Moultrie, Carrots from Claxton and Red MuleGrits from Athens Georgia.
At the Farmers Market a few isles over from the Athens Farm to School tent is a couple selling grits. These Red MuleGrits which are served across the county in student’s lunches are also sold locally from a modest table with a few bags of self-packaged grits at the Athens Farmer’s market.
The Red Mule Mill is owned and operated by Tim and Alice Mills, with the help of their red mule Luke. The couple sticks to simple organic farming methods to produce the freshest grits possible.
“We grind to order and whereas most stuff already packaged has a long shelf life, this has to be kept refrigerated because we don’t put preservatives in it. It’s natural corn,” said Alice Mills.
Red Mule Mill supplies grits to local restaurants including East-West Bistro and the Five & Ten, as well as locations across 20 states—but for the Athens Farm to School program the most important customer of Red Mule Mills are the children who get to have fresh locally grown food as part of their lunch.
Farm to School Lunches
Like the educational taste testing tent at the Farmers Market, Athens Farm to School encourages local school to host taste testing days with local farmers to get kids to try new healthy foods.
Andre Gallant described Clarke Middles School taste testing in a recent article for the Athens Banner Herald. Gallant ate a typical lunch meal in the Clarke Middle cafeteria.
Gallant raved about the carrots, a Georgia grown staple, featured as a locally grown menu item on the CCSD website. “…the carrots, were phenomenal, braised with some sort indecipherable liquid that extracted the vegetable’s natural sugars. Complete and utter nom-nom.”
When asked about incorporating locally-grown items into school lunches at Clarke Middle School principle Tad MacMillan said, “I think it is very important. Not only does it make economic sense, it supports local businesses and is environmentally wise. I want to see us really expand in this area.”
While solving the problem of childhood obesity requires a collective effort of improved nutrition in children’s’ entire diets along with daily exercise, Athens Farm to School is making an effort to improve at least one meal a day for students with the hopes that exposing students to healthy eating will carry over into their daily health choices.
Athens Farm to School Visual: http://prezi.com/agja1jptmrl4/present/?auth_key=fom7icr&follow=trkjlobb9hm9
By: Zoe Brawner
A burgeoning network of food artisans, purveyors and growers anticipate the opening day of the Athens Farmers Market, set to kickoff on April 6.
In the last decade, according to Local Harvest, farmers markets have become a weekly ritual for many shoppers as well as a favorite marketing method for farmers. In Athens, officials report the Athens Farmers Market attendance has more than doubled.
The Athens Farmers Market sells its products twice a week. Every Saturday the Athens Farmers Market is at Bishop Park from 8am until noon and on Wednesdays it is located at City Hall from 4 p.m.-7p.m.
Today there are almost two million farms in the United States. Local Harvest states that about 80 percent of those farms are small farms and a large percentage of these are family owned. When you look at a map that identifies farmers markets across the nation, it is a sea of hundreds if not thousands of red dots. http://www.localharvest.org/. Local Harvest’s map of all of the farms in the United States allows you to find a small farm near you to support your local farmer.
Customers arrive to the sound of live music at the Athens Farmers Market. They grab a freshly brewed cup of Thousand Faces coffee. Then roam from booth to booth, buying seasonal produce from their favorite growers.
All of this occurs while visiting with neighbors, old friends and making new friends. Customers try new foods they have never cooked at home while children wander at will in the protected confines of the market.
They are free to dance and sing to the music of a local musician. Growers offer recipes and tips to cooking the current season’s produce. If the customer’s timing is right, they can watch a cooking demonstration by a local chef and taste a sample of the outcome.
As the customer leaves, they stop for fresh eggs, field-fed meat and dairy products. But most importantly, when the customer prepares and eats their food from the market, they remember the relaxing experience and appreciate the tasty and nutritious food they are eating.
The Athens Farmers Market establishes a tighter connection between producers and consumers of locally grown produce. Co-founder of the Athens Farmers Market, Jerry NeSmith, says they require that the growers come to the market to sell their products. NeSmith said that the Athens Farmers Market nourishes and encourages the relationship between the consumer and the grower. It creates a sense of community between the local citizens and local farmers.
College student Rachel Barnes is a frequent customer at the Athens Farmers Market just for that reason.
“I shop at the Athens Farmers Market for many reasons, namely that I like to know exactly where my food comes from. I can ask the growers questions about how to prepare it, and I am supporting people within my community. I’d give my money to a local, family-owned farm than a corporation any day!”
There is no surprise why the Athens Farmers Market has hundreds of “regulars” that come every week and are on a first name basis with the growers. NeSmith even stated that growers often invite customers to their farm for visits. Recently, the Athens Farmers Market attendance has risen from an average of 800 adult visitors to almost 2000. NeSmith says the Athens Farmers Market has doubled the number of growers at the market since their first market in 2008.
Juan VillaVeces, a vendor at the Athens Farmers Market, and his family have been a part of the Athens community for over 35 years. His family has a history of cooking in Athens. As a food purveyor, VillaVeces provides prepared foods using locally produced ingredients. VillaVeces says that some of their customers actually guide their recipes and what he actually brings to the market. VillaVeces mainly sells empanadas. Occasionally he offers tamales. He also has an assortment of muffins, baklava, pastries, and anything else he wants to experiment with in gluten free products.
“We sell our products at the Athens Farmers Market because Athens is not big enough to sustain our business exclusively with one venue. Although some of the customers are the same people who go to the farmers market. The market is also a social event. It has been beneficial for my children to be involved and have something to do on the weekends.”
Community Supported Agriculture programs are similar to farmers markets due to the fact that CSAs have also become a viable source to financially support these farmers and increase local consumption. Typically the farmer will provide a certain number of “shares” to the public, which is often a box of vegetables. Consumers can purchase a membership with seasonal subscription fees in advance. In return the consumer will receive weekly shares of produce throughout the course of the growing season.
Athens.LocallyGrown.net is an example of an established Community Supported Agriculture program. Dan and Kristen Miller founded Athens Locally Grown in 2001 and have continued to grow this CSA. Today Athens Locally Grown sells a wide range of products to over 4,000 individuals, families, local restaurants, and grocery stores. In other CSA programs members receive the same box of stuff. However, Athens Locally Grown lets consumers choose which items they want, the quantities, and from which farm they want their produce. Athens Locally Grown sends members a weekly email each Sunday evening that contains a list of the produce, milled products, fresh flowers, and artisan goods that are available each week. Consumers simply browse the available items on the website emailed to them before they place their order online. Members pick up their orders between 4:30 p.m. -8:00 p.m. each Thursday at Ben’s Bikes.
CSAs like Athens Grown Locally and farmers markets like the Athens Farmers Market, have many benefits. When consumers support a local business by purchasing local items, consumers provide stability to the local economy. Consumers of local products are individuals involved in the process of saving resources including packaging materials and gas. Locally Grown and Athens Farmers Market supporters help educate the community about the importance of sustainable agriculture as well as preserve a way of life. Both believe that small, diverse, family-owned farms contribute to a society’s health.
by Chari Sutherland
On Tuesday, Roots Farm and Cedar Grove Farm workers were preparing for participation in the Athens Farmer’s Market (AFM) opening on May11. At Roots, Sara Callaway knelt in moist, black soil, and added lettuce seedlings for red cross lettuce. At Cedar Grove, a worker used a pitchfork to toss natural compost into the garden where planting will begin. With the opening of the AFM only seven weeks away, growers are busy tending their gardens.
“It’s an interesting challenge to have food coming out early spring,” Callaway said, who is manager of the Roots Farm. “We put a good amount of effort in planting things that grow fast with a 30- to 60-day turnaround.” She said lettuces, radishes and arugula grow fast. Onions, planted in the fall, will be ready by the market opening day. After mid-April frost risk goes down and growers can pretty much plant anything, said Jay Payne, president of the AFM and owner of Cedar Grove Farm in Crawford, Georgia.
Farmer markets have been becoming more and more popular. The USDA reported in August, 2009 that there were approximately 4,900 farmers markets operating nationwide, this includes 215 new markets added since 2008.
The interest in farmer’s markets is evidenced by the attendance level increases over the last two years that the AFM has been open.
Payne said, “We had 1200 visitors on average per market last year for over 34,000 total.” He hopes to see an increase in those numbers this year. “I would like to think that the 20 farmers will feed at least 2000-3000 customers a week this season.”
Board member, Christy Jenkins, was instrumental in the upstart of the market. She said when the market began in 2008 the goals were “ to establish a stable market with regular clientele, to establish consistency in presentation of products, and to make it so people are aware of the market in the area.”
Craig Page of Promoting Local Agriculture and Cultural Experience (PLACE) was also involved in planning the AFM. “There definitely had a learning curve the first year,” he said.
Payne said, “On our first day, we had 3000 people show up on Saturday. It was a disaster. We had this knot of people in one spot.” Produce sold out in an hour, he said. That indicated the AFM would be a great success.
Here are some statistics:
- First year’s weekly patronage averaged 950 people per week
- Second year’s weekly patronage averaged 1200 a week
- At peak season, 1500 customers were the average.
- In the first year 11 farmers participated. By the end of that year, there were 16.
- There were 18 farmers the second year.
- This year, 30 farmers have applied. Only 25 will be chosen for full-time slots and up to six more for part-time.
“This is not a market where farmers can drop in anytime,” Payne said. “Many farmers’ markets started and failed because they didn’t have a consistent level of produce.” Growers must commit to either a “Full Membership” which entitles the grower to participate on all Saturdays. This level of membership costs $400. A “Full Membership Plus”, which costs $700, enables the grower to participate on all Saturdays and Tuesdays in the season. Growers must be
Certified Naturally Grown, have farms must be located within the 26-county area around Athens and must submit to the philosophy, ‘If you don’t grow it, you can’t sell it.’
Callaway said the rates and requirements are reasonable. “If your production size is anything, you’re going to make at least $300 every week,” she said. “That ends up being about $9000 for the season if its 29 weeks.”
Cutting out the middle man such as transport costs, has had two affects, Payne said. Farmers are growing more product and the money they make is staying in the community.
Growers in the AFM are usually small farmers who are cultivating gardens of around two or three acres. There are some with only a half acre and one with about 13 acres. Because of their small size, most growers in the market tend not to be Certified Organic (a USDA managed program). Certified Naturally Grown is a type of organic or sustainable farming that “follows organic thinking”, Payne said, but costs less. All growers in the AFM use natural materials or techniques, avoiding any synthetic products.
The market has several changes this year. Payne said he hopes the Tuesday Downtown Market from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Little Kings Bar parking lot will bring in consumers who can’t normally come Saturday mornings, such as students and downtown workers.
In past years, AFM has only been accepting cash or checks. This year, they have obtained an Electronic Benefits Transfer device (EBT) that will enable them to sell to food stamp recipients. These customers will be able to use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) debit cards to purchase food.
Page said parking had been a problem. After 2009, most of the kinks were worked out, he said. “An upcoming problem we may face is space,” Craig said. Payne said he hopes the AFM will acquire its own space in the next few years instead of renting.
As a grower, Callaway’s has found that she has to narrow down the diversity of produce she grows because buyers want the more common items. “People want butter head lettuce, for example. Not speckled romaine, red romaine, or oak leaf. They won’t buy them.” In tomatoes, however, customers seem to like not just the red slicers but also pink and yellow varieties.
Payne encourages the consumers to think differently about food varieties. “The farmer’s market has varieties of things you can’t get in a grocery store because they don’t hold up as long.” For instance, Cedar Grove alone will sell at least four different varieties of kale and three varieties of greens. At the market there will be growers hawking blueberries, blackberries, kale, brocalli, lettuces, carrots, squashes, and various varieties of potatoes. Cedar Grove’s most popular item is the purple hull, Texas pink-eye peas.
Looking ahead, Page is hopeful that state laws will be relaxed to allow local meat and dairy producers to participate in the market.
Payne said he’d like to see the market have twice as many farmers in 10 years, feeding a community with more fresh, local, wholesome food, rather than produce that might travel thousands of miles before the consumer ever sees it. “My vision was to create something lasting so people would say ‘They have a really great market in Athens’.”
At the outset of this venture two years ago, Page said he’d hoped that the market would create a social space for the community to come together. It has become that. It has also had the effect of helping growers create personal relationships with customers. “Because the farmers are there, consumers have confidence in our products,” Payne said.
The Athens Farmer’s Market will run from May 11 to November 20 in Bishop Park at 705 Sunset Drive. Saturday hours will be 8 to 12. Tuesday’s Downtown Market hours will be 4 to 7. See the Farmer’s Market website for more information, http://athensfarmersmarket.net