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Travel + Culture

Farmstand on the Run

Forget chitchatting with growers at this revolutionary farmers market: Just place your order beforehand and pick up your goods.

It is extremely pleasing to arrive at the Locally Grown farmers market in Athens, Georgia, and see your name on a bouquet of flowers. “For me?” you think, momentarily rejoicing that at long last someone has recognized your innate goodness and rewarded you with zinnias. And then you remember: “Oh yes, I ordered them myself.”

Every Sunday, Eric Wagoner, the mastermind behind Athens Locally Grown, sends out an email to all members listing (with pictures) what the 60 farms—all of them practicing sustainable agriculture and most located within 75 miles of Athens—have available that week. Members have until Tuesday night to place their orders online. The growers harvest accordingly and attach nice little labels with each member’s name to the bags of baby eggplants, cartons of multi-colored eggs, or bouquets of zinnias, and deliver the produce (and grass-fed meat, raw dairy, bread, and the odd beeswax candle or two) to the market on Thursday. A volunteer collects each member’s order and passes them along to the cash register.

“We take away the speculation of a traditional Saturday market,” says Wagoner, himself a farmer of half an acre of heirloom vegetables. “Normally, the growers are out there harvesting the day before. They get maybe two hours of sleep before they have to drive into the city. And then they just have to hope that there are customers, that it doesn’t rain, that people want what’s being sold. With our network, the growers know that everything is sold before they even harvest.”

In other words, Locally Grown combines some of the security of community-supported agriculture with the range of choices of a regular market. Pretty good idea, huh? Athens locals certainly think so: Wagoner says that the group now has 1,500 members, and the market routinely beats its own sales record each week. There’s even a waiting list for volunteers who want to help fill orders on Thursdays.

And the model is taking off: Roughly 30 other networks around the country—some as small as a single farm—have sprung up using the Locally Grown software program that Wagoner designed.