A Brief History of the Athens Farmers Market
The origin of the Athens Farmers Market (AFM) rests in several conversations among a few citizens and city officials in 1972. At the Soil and Water Conservation District office in Athens, John Millar was the district conservationist. As he recalled it, one day Harold Dodd, a technician in the same office, suggested that Athens needed a farmers market, and John agreed.
That year several farmers had started selling produce from uptown metered parking spaces. Donald Barrett, Mayor of Athens from 1972 to 1984, wanted the farmers to find another site. So he supported Millar's and Dodd's effort to start a farmers market. Others who joined in that effort included Marian Keller, Ruth Richmond and County Extension Agent Kenneth Ackerman.
They choose the East State park and recreation area, with the support of the Mayor, as the site of the new farmers market. This area was formerly the Ohio University airport. The city used the hangars for various city offices, including those of the arts and parks and others. Now part of the former runway was to be used for the new farmers market.
The group drafted by-laws and rules which stipulated that the market be for agricultural products only, which were to be sold by the producers themselves. This is still the fundamental rule of the AFM. The time was set for Saturdays from 10 to 12:00. The first market was held on a summer day in 1972 with 3 producers attending. By the end of the season, participation peaked at a dozen vendors.
In 1973, the market ran from April until Thanksgiving. The fees were $5 a day, up to $25 for the season. A Wednesday market was soon added. Ed Rannow, who sold honey, was the first manager, and Larry Payne, who sold apples, was the first president.
The market's popularity grew steadily. New vendors brought bedding plants, eggs and baked goods, in addition to fruits and vegetables. In 1983, John Millar, considered the founder of the AFM, became the market manager and in 1987 Bill Wethington became president.
By the mid 90s there were 50 vendors. Dave Gutknecht was chosen as manager in 1993. The all-winter market was first held in 1995-96. In 1995, the city began making plans to build a new community recreation center. Construction began in 1998, so the AFM had to move. In the spring of that year it moved to its present site, which was then called the University Mall.
The new site had ample space for vendor and customer parking, and excellent visibility and traffic access. The AFM grew rapidly, getting over 100 vendors on some summer mornings. Hours were extended to 10 to 1.
During the 2006-2007 period, plans lead by ACEnet were made to build a pavilion at the mall to house the market. However, the plans fell through, and it looked like the market would have to move. But a deal was worked out with the mall owners to stay and start paying rent. It was during this time that CFI's Donation Station was begun.
In 2009, the winter market moved inside the mall from December to April. In 2010 the market's present manager Kip Parker was hired. The year 2014 brought another big change - a steakhouse was built on the section of the parking lot the market was using. So the market had to move down into the center section of the parking area. There was less space, limiting growth, and the hours changed to 9-12 to accommodate the neighboring movie theater.
With space and times restricted, the AFM's executive committee, with the help of the Athens Foundation and ACEnet, began to search for a new permanent site. It was decided the most feasible option was to move back to the city's East State recreation area. As of this writing (2018), plans for the new market site are proceeding slowly.