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Photo provided by Susie Huser, director of outreach for Community Food Initiatives

Memorial fund offers aid to new farmers through Athens Farmers Market

The Athens Farmers Market, with partners Community Food Initiatives and Rural Action, have recently announced the second annual Ann Fugate Memorial Fund Grant for Beginner Farmers. The grant is aimed at financially aiding local producers and their startups.

Ann Fugate was an important member of the Athens Farmers Market and had been part of the market since it was at its old location at the Athens Recreation Center. Fugate ran Rich Organic Farms with her husband Rich Tomsu.

Ronda Clark, grant writer and an executive member of the Athens Farmers Market, said the couple grew everything: potatoes, onions, garlic and more. In particular she said they started the asparagus craze in Athens. 

Ann Fugate died in May, 2020. In her obituary she stated she wanted any money in lieu of flowers to be donated to the Athens Farmers Market. The farmers market soon received ample donations. Clark thought it would be a waste if the donations just went toward paying the market’s bills, so she approached the Fugate family and asked if it would better serve as a grant.

“She really wanted to make sure that the market was for farmers; not for people that were buying and selling produce, farmers that grew it locally,” Clark said.

The Fugate family agreed to creating a grant. Requirements for the grant include being a beginner farmer, including produce and flower growers, ranchers, eggs and/or honey producers, can not have ever been an Athens Farmers Market vendor in the past and must live within a 150 mile radius of Athens.

Two annual winners will be granted a free stall fee, worth $250 each, but will still be asked to pay the membership fee of $225.

Tom Redfern, Rural Action’s director of sustainable agriculture, said Fugate had a strong belief in working hard to build our local food system. He said she was supportive of Rural Action, the Community Food Initiative and the Athens Farmers Market, and that she was a mentor to many young farmers.

“She was dedicated to our local food system and also in general she was dedicated to making the Athens community a better place,” Redfern said. 

Nicole Maleport and Jerome Grskovic of Toadally Awesome Garden were the recipients of the grant in 2021. They operate a small market garden in which they primarily grow lettuce and greens but they grow other produce as well. 

Maleport said their venture was a product of the COVID-19 pandemic. Maleport was laid off during the pandemic and decided to use her hobby of gardening as a means to support herself. 

The duo at first sold their surplus through Village Bakery + Cafe in Athens through their Saturday porch pickup program. After a year they saw the grant in the Athens Messenger and decided to apply for both a space at the farmers market and the grant. 

Maleport said the grant helped them figure out the logistics of their business. When first starting they didn’t have any idea of how much to grow as well as what were popular items among consumers. The grant gave them some leeway in this regard.

“The grant gives you that little bit more cushion I think as you're learning and figuring this out for yourself,” Maleport said. 

More than anything, Clark feels the grant is a great way for Fugate’s legacy to live on while making a conscious effort to help others – something Clark knew Fugate did her whole life. 

“She was tough, she was strong, she was clear-minded, she was a doer,” Clark said. “She got things done. She wanted to give them an economic opportunity to sell their product.”

Donations to the Ann Fugate Memorial Fund can be written out to Central Food Initiatives with “Ann Fugate'' written in the memo section and sent to 94 Columbus Road. CFI is a 501(c)3 organization and all donations can be a tax write off. 

Requests for applications for the Ann Fugate Memorial Grant can be sent to Ronda Clark and the deadline for submitting is January 31, 2022. Requests and applications can be sent to Ms. Clark at blackberrysagefarm@gmail.com.

The Athens Farmers Market runs 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. year-round in the front parking lot and inside the Market on State Mall, depending on weather.

@JordanE42800656

je563817@ohio.edu 

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