Every Saturday from mid-March until late November, thousands of people head to the Eighth Street Bulkhead along the Riverwalk to explore the Augusta Market at the River.
There are lines of booths with everything from fresh local produce to baked goods to handmade art and jewelry.
Many visitors stop and eat lunch at one of the local vendors offering tasty meals such as shrimp and grits, paella or delicious fried green tomatoes, while musicians from across the region entertain the crowd with live music.
The atmosphere at the Augusta Market is fun, relaxing and extremely family-friendly. It is also one of the few markets in this region that still allows pets on a leash.
But last week a photo was circulating on Facebook of an overflowing trash can at the Augusta market.
Let’s just say, it was less than appealing.
The trash can was so full that styrofoam cups and bowls along with plastic water bottles and utensils were falling onto the ground.
It didn’t help that the overflowing trash can was right next to the fountain that children sometimes play in along the Eighth Street Bulkhead. (It should be pointed out that the fountain was turned off at the time.)
But some visitors to the market couldn’t believe their eyes.
“The city’s quality work at the farmers market….. 200 people and 2 trash cans like this,” one gentleman on Facebook wrote, while posting the photo.
Another person on Facebook responded, “When you finally accept that the city of Augusta is a joke, all frustration will stop. Lol.”
Now, granted this was not the most welcoming sight for visitors to the Augusta farmers market, but it does prove the fact that the Saturday event is continuing to grow in popularity to the point that it definitely needs extra attention and funding from the city.
There needs to be additional staff and resources dedicated to the Saturday market so that it can continue to thrive and not outgrow itself.
All the Augusta market needs is a little extra TLC.
It would be wise for Augusta to look at surrounding cities’ farmers markets that are extremely popular and well managed such as those in Charleston, Greenville, S.C., and Atlanta’s Ponce City Farmers’ Market.
Of course, these farmers markets are much larger than Augusta’s Saturday market, but the Garden City still could learn a great deal from the organization and maintenance of these markets.
The TD Saturday Market in Greenville takes up two blocks of downtown’s Main Street each Saturday from the beginning of May until the end of October.
Thousands of people each week come to see roughly 75 white tents offering the season’s freshest produce and the area’s most original and high-quality crafts.
One of the requirements of the market is all of the food must be grown or produced within 100 miles of Greenville.
Some of the most popular items are the handcrafted pastas and cheeses, decadent breakfast pastries, fresh breads, gourmet chocolates, pottery and organic fruits and vegetables.
They even provide a seasonal crop calendar for visitors.
But the market wasn’t always a huge success.
Much like Greenville’s downtown district, the market had humble beginnings, according to Greenville Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“When the market was launched in 2003, downtown Greenville, after nearly 30 years of strategic revitalization that ranged from reducing Main Street from four lanes to two and bookending Main Street with a major hotel and a state-of-the-art park, was just beginning to flourish,” the CVB writes about the market. “A shadow of its current size, the market was located on a small side street and was comprised of roughly 20 vendors. Attendance was low during the market’s infancy, however, as word spread and Main Street’s popularity as a destination for shopping, dining and entertainment grew, so did the market’s attendance.”
By 2007, the market outgrew its location and relocated to Main Street.
Now, it’s 15 years going strong.
However, there are guidelines to this market. It’s not quite as laid back as Augusta’s market.
For instance, the Greenville market doesn’t allow dogs, smoking, skateboards or bicycles.
That’s very different from Augusta.
But apparently Greenville is doing something right because Bon Appétit Magazine recently featured the city’s TD Saturday Market in its article called “13 Farmers’ Markets Worth Traveling For.”
“This rising Southern city has brought its farmers’ market game to a new level,” Bon Appétit Magazine recently wrote. “Stand with your cold-pressed Kuka Juice and marvel at how massive the eggplants are on the Greenbriar Farms table, then eavesdrop on locals exchanging green tomato recipes and debating which of the seven flavors of goat cheese from Spinning Spider Creamery reigns supreme.”
Also included in the article by Bon Appétit was the Ponce City Farmers’ Market in Atlanta.
“You can almost feel the hipster vibrations pulsing at ‘The Shed’ off the Atlanta BeltLine, at this funky market that gets a ton of foot and bicycle traffic,” the article stated. “There’s plenty of pop-up chefs’ stations, urban farmers, and Adidas Stan Smiths here, along with Mercier Orchards, whose handcrafted ciders are enough to convince the apple-averse to buy a four-pack. And any trip to The Shed sans pit stops at Heritage Farm, King of Pops (orange cream is a welcome throwback, but blackberry ginger lemonade is where it’s at), and Wanderlust Coffee is a greenmarket sweep done wrong.”
Another real treasure in the surrounding area is the Charleston Farmers Market.
“Founded by Mayor Joe Riley in 1989, and the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service, the Charleston Farmers Market (CFM) is produced by the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs, in cooperation with the City of Charleston Parks Department and Special Events Committee,” the Charleston CVB states. “Over the years, the CFM has received numerous awards.”
For example, the Charleston Farmers Market was ranked by Travel + Leisure Magazine as one of the top “10 Best Farmers Markets” in the nation.
It’s time for the city of Augusta to really help support the growth of the Augusta Market on the River because it is a local treasure and a treat to residents and visitors alike.