On a Wednesday afternoon from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., you will find many tents and activities on the Zell B. Miller Learning Center South Lawn creating the UGA Farmers Market. Some of the featured produce at the market include tomato plants, carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, turnips, and more. Slowly, interested bystanders begin to walk over, ask questions and enjoy the community.

Farmers Market Friends is a new organization on the campus of the University of Georgia with the goal of alleviating food insecurity in Athens. Through the assistance of the Athens Farmers Market, this organization is responsible for starting UGA’s first farmers market on campus.

Co-presidents and founders of the organization Abraham Lebos and Reese Macmillan applied for a $5,000 sustainability grant through the UGA Office of Sustainability to start the market. 

“Me and Reese formulated this idea with Sarah to start a UGA club that could draw on the ideas of pre-med students interested in the health aspect of local food, design students who could get the message out that way all across the board,” said Lebos. “That way interdisciplinary to work towards the united goal of local food and supporting the local economy for the personal and community health benefit.”

 Why It’s Newsworthy: Athens-Clarke County is one of the poorest counties in Georgia and experiences a high level of food insecurity. Organizations such as Farmers Market Friends offer a solution to make a tangible impact in the local community. 

 

Food Insecurity in Athens

Athens-Clarke County is one of Georgia’s poorest counties. Even though there have been many efforts to address this from the national, state, and local levels, one in five Clarke County residents are food insecure according to Feeding America. Macmillan said the lack of UGA students efforts to help with alleviation plays a major role.

“Athens obviously is a big one [food desert], and there’s minimal access to fresh and affordable produce,” Macmillan said. “Students are where a lot of the Athens resources are going to, so if we can fully engage the UGA community in local food systems, then it will have a resonating effect throughout the entire community.”

Source: https://map.feedingamerica.org (Infographic/Jayla Johnson)

A Day At The Market

Along with the sale of fruits and vegetables, there is music, cooking demonstrations from UGA dining services, art on display, and the opportunity to participate in art projects with students from the Lamar Dodd School of Art. To incentivize students to attend the market and buy produce, dining services coordinated with the market to accept Paw Points, tax-free money for meal plan participants to make purchases with certain vendors on campus.

Patrons of the University of Georgia Farmers Market on March 10, 2021 participated in a sustainability activity using grocery store bags as crochet materials to make baskets. (Photo/Jayla Johnson)

After asking what makes the UGA Farmers Market unique, many say it’s the convenience of the market that they enjoy most.

“It’s good for some students who don’t feel comfortable riding the bus to the Wednesday Athens Farmers Market,” says a farmers market patron. “Especially with this going to the Farm Rx program, it’s just good all around.” 

How the Program Works

The produce provided at the UGA farmers market is purchased from local farmers in the Athens area. These items are sold at a whole price, and all proceeds are given to the Athens Farmers Market’s “Food As Real Medicine Rx Program,” which also has the goal of addressing local food insecurity and using healthy foods as medicine.

Also known as Farm Rx, the Athens Farmers Market in conjunction with local healthcare providers work to prescribe healthy foods to patients with chronic, diet-related illnesses. According to the American Diabetes Association in 2017, diagnosed diabetes cost $237 billion in direct health care, and one way to prevent this is creating access to healthy eating.

Once a doctor prescribes the healthy food for the program, these prescriptions can be redeemed at the Athens Farmers Market. Providers and partners with the program include Envision Athens, St. Mary’s Hospital, Piedmont Athens Regional, SNAP Ed at UGA, the UGA Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, UGA College of Public Health and the UGA Office of Sustainability.

How the Program Has Helped So Far and Potential Challenges

The Farmers Market Has been open since the beginning of March 2021 and raised $1,200 so far. All of the proceeds will be donated at the end of the season. Lebos said Farmers Market Friends was offered the opportunity to donate significant amounts of produce to Concrete Jungle, which gives the donation to crisis centers/food banks in Athens.

Brittany Rogers, a pediatric nurse practitioner for Athens Neighborhood Health Center, said the program has the potential to address many health issues in the community, but it must overcome a few limitations to be the most effective.

“The limitation would be helping people cook the food the way that they like,” said Rodgers. “You might have a number of things from the farmers market that you might not know much about. Helping provide ways for those people to use the food in the ways they like them to and learn how to cook them in healthy ways is the next step.”

Jayla Johnson is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

 

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