The AFM is a staple of Athens. The market hosts a variety of local farmers from around Southeast Ohio, from vendors who sell honey to jewelry. It is also one of several farmers markets in Ohio that accepts SNAP benefits. The farmers market, 1000 E. State St., is open every Saturday and Wednesday, 9 a.m. to noon and 9 a.m to 1 p.m., respectively.
“(We’re) quite organized,” Becky Clark, marketing and promotions manager of AFM, said. “We’ve been in contact with the local health department. (We’ve) made a lot of changes. We moved outside three weeks before we normally do ... We spread stalls out a lot... (Vendors) are now 6 to 10 feet apart, and we have social distancing signage up.”
The farmers market is still open and running each weekend. Since the market provides food, it is considered an essential business. Though Athens may seem like a ghost town, Clark said the market has maintained steady attendance.
“From what we've seen, it's almost surprising how our sales are not down from normal,” Clark said. “(There) are a lot less people congregating, customers respecting social distancing ... (It’s) not a social gathering place (right now).”
Clark said certain local vendors have partnered to deliver their farmers market goods. Deliveries will be arranged and dropped off, meaning there’s no physical contact between her and the customer, Clark said.
“We’re doing scheduled deliveries,” Clark said. “We’re calling and texting to make sure they get it. Once they receive it, we’re driving off.”
One of the farms with goods up for delivery is Primaterra Farm, 6475 Township Road 154, New Lexington.
Primaterra Farm is a 12-acre veggie, poultry and egg farm about 40 miles north of Athens. Henry Jochem, owner and operator of Primaterra Farm, has run the farm for almost three years now and frequents the Athens Farmers Market.
Jochem said the past few weeks of the farmers market have been great in turnout, but this weekend, he noticed a decline in attendance and people being more cautious.
“I noticed (that) customers this weekend didn't want to come into the tent or touch stuff,” he said.
Jochem said his products will be up for delivery starting this week. For him, the market is entering unprecedented territory. People are still coming to the market, and the market will stay open for the foreseeable future, but the unpredictable nature of the pandemic makes for some uncertainty.
“Depending on how things go, (delivery) might be (our) future with this pandemic,” Jochem said.
Jochem has noticed some choose to shop at the market because they feel safe there.
“Customers and vendors feel strongly (about the virus) and feel safer about (the farmers market) than going into Kroger and Walmart,” Jochem said.
Clark along with other vendors and food producers have discussed the topic of food safety within the market compared to larger companies.
“A lot of what we've been talking about (with) vendors and other local food producers (is that local food has) less exposure,” Clark said. “(There is) less shipping, less distribution and less middlemen. We do feel that it's safer, and most of our local providers of food are growing, harvesting, butchering food themselves.”
Marlene Poches, owner and operator of Coolville Ridge Atomic Farm, 8111 N. Coolville Ridge Road, agrees with Clark. For her, shopping locally provides a sense of security. Coolville Ridge is also participating in delivery services.
Coolville Ridge’s products, which range from heritage livestock to baked goods, are currently available remotely, Poches said. As she an autoimmune disease, Poches has chosen not to attend the farmers market lately. It was a difficult decision to make, but she hopes to be back by Easter. She is enjoying delivery work, though.
“I’m having fun with it,” Poches said. “People can get my goods without exposing themselves.”
Poches tries to make a variety of items for delivery during this time. She realizes that she’s serving both the young and the old and is trying to hit all the aspects of things.
“There’s children at home, too, and they get bored,” Poches said. “Parents are also trying to keep up with a (changing) school menu.”
Poches will do deliveries on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She also said her prices won’t be rising with the change. In fact, she’s doing the opposite.
“I hate the gouging right now, especially with job loss,” Poches said. “I’m also doing cinnamon roll Sunday. The price is cut in half due to the unemployment rate. I’m not trying to gouge people. I want to do the reverse.”
For her, Athens County is a good place to be during these times. As people lose their jobs, food insecurity seems to be a possible growing problem, but for Poches, there’s hope.
“There are options here,” Poches said. “As farmers and locals, we have a really good health department and local resources. Don’t be shy. The university is doing everything they possibly can for students who are experiencing food loss. Don’t lose hope. Don’t forget to go outside.”
Correction: A previous version of this report incorrectly stated Marlene Poches’ autoimmune disease. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.