The Athens Farmers Market happens twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and is in the unique position to allow businesses and customers room to spread out and better adhere to COVID-19 distancing guidelines.
Charles Buchanan, co-owner of Morning Dew Hop Farm, said the customer base for his business has actually increased throughout COVID-19, a stark contrast to the experience of many other businesses.
Morning Dew Hop Farm specializes in growing hops, for beer, but also grows vegetables and different types of mushrooms. Much of their income comes from cottages on their farm, which can be rented out through Airbnb. Additionally, Buchanan and his co-owner, Steve Giesler are working to open a spa and microbrewery on their property.
Buchanan said he has seen an increase in sales for both the company’s agricultural products, as well as the company’s Airbnb rentals. They have been very lucky, he said.
Kristen Wiedmann, co-owner of Symmes Creek Ranch, had a similar sentiment when it came to the beginning of the pandemic, but she has seen more of a decrease throughout 2021.
Symmes Creek Ranch is a collaboration between Wiedmann and two other farmers. Together, the three own about 250–300 heads of cattle. The three farmers split the selling areas, with Wiedmann being in charge of selling to the Athens area.
Initially, when everything shut down, more people felt comfortable shopping outside, Wiedmann said. The farmers market was able to spread out more and still required masks. However, she noticed a decrease in customers at the beginning of summer 2021, as shops and restaurants began opening up again.
“It's been so long since everybody's been out to eat and out doing things. Nobody was cooking,” Wiedmann said. “Everybody was tired of being at home. So, there for a while we did see a decrease. It just took a lot longer to catch up to us.”
The farmers market is not the only place she saw a decrease in sales, though. Wiedmann also sells to some local restaurants, and she not only experienced a decline in volume of meat being bought during shut-downs but she also lost some customers. That is largely due to revenue loss to the restaurants, causing them to be unable to afford local meat products, she said.
Despite declines, Weidmann is very grateful for the ability to shop and sell outdoors during this time.
Other businesses, such as Crane’s Crazy Corn, have not been as lucky as Wiedmann or Buchanan.
Jim Crane, owner of Crane’s Crazy Corn, said he has experienced a decrease in his customer base throughout the pandemic. He sells his popcorn solely at the farmers market.
He said he hopes customers will soon be able to shop without fear of catching a highly contagious disease. Although he is vaccinated himself, he still wears a mask during the market to help customers feel more at ease.
“I'm hoping, when this is all over, if it's ever over, we'll be able to return to somewhat normal,” Crane said.