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A Recipe for Change: Jan Kozak on Sustaining Your Farmers Market

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Farmers markets are a viable resource for communities to support their local growers while incorporating more fresh and organically grown produce into their diets. As the presence of farmers markets in Georgia grows, its important for producers to know not only how to maintain their market but how to make it thrive.

Jan Kozak is the market manager of the Athens Farmers Market. He has a great deal of experience in what it takes to run a sustainable farmers market, including the business aspects of supply and demand as well as some of the more creative techniques to keep a market flourishing. Kozak, along with Katie Cash Hayes of Community Farmers Markets, and Jerry NeSmith, treasurer of the Athens Farmers Market, will participate in an Educational Session on Sustaining Farmers Markets at the 18th Annual Georgia Organics Conference, Recipe for Change: Better Farms, Better Flavors, which will be held on Feb. 20-21, 2015, at the Classic Center in Athens, Ga. We talked to Jan about the growth of farmers markets in Georgia and the most important part of a farmers market’s success: community.

How would you define a successful farmers market?
Lots of sustainably-minded producers and consumers from all income strata coming together, directly, with no parties in between, in symbiotic, cohesive fashion. This means having good policies regarding where vendors are from, what can and can’t be sold, particularly relating to sustainability, and being strictly producer-only. A successful market balances supply and demand well, has effective food accessibility programs, puts forth good social media and marketing, is generous with its space and resources, and adds layers that make the market more vibrant–chef’s demos, educational activities, live music, non-profit booths, contests, off-site events, etc. On the surface markets look so simple. And that’s part of the beauty–the simplicity of the concept hiding the complex picture behind the scenes.

Athens’ food community is super tight. Where does the farmers market fit into this community?
We look at ourselves as the conduit through which the local food scene ether flows. The twice-weekly event where the food community, and community at-large, can meet, converse, shop, learn, and make itself stronger.

Is there something unique about Athens that has empowered its good food community to work so well together that other areas may not have?
Athens is a special place, to be sure. I always tell folks that we have lots of community members who care. Simply put, we care about our community and those that make up the community. It’s a tight-knit small town with big city ambitions in terms of food. When you have compassion and ambition, you get something pretty special.

Why do you think farmers markets are expanding in Georgia?
More folks than ever want to know what’s in their food. We want transparency and clean food. And we want it because we know more. Information flows so freely in our modern society. Major food producers can’t hide their missteps any longer. Recalls are the norm. Widespread food-borne illness is a regular occurrence. And on top of this, there is major momentum behind buying local and supporting small producers. We’re tired of the big box and we want something real. And we also are faced with rising healthcare costs and so we look to keep ourselves healthy through diet and exercise. That movement leads many to organic or sustainably produced foods. Farmers markets, well, are the net that catches many. Thankfully!

What do you see as the next challenge for farmers markets in Georgia?
Growth in communities struggling to gain access to good food. We truly believe wholesome, local, sustainable food should be a basic human right. Wholesome Wave Georgia’s SNAP doubling program is helping us put this belief into practice, but more is needed. A natural result of our growing income disparity is a health disparity between underserved population and affluent populations. Obesity, diabetes, and infectious diseases are more common among underserved and access to healthful food is to blame in large part. This is not the result of an equitable society nor is it class warfare. It is a reality we must address. We need to work hard at bringing the good food we provide at the farmers market ALL members of our community.

 

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