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Step into the pavilion at the Athens Farmers Market and you are immediately met with the rainbow colors of fresh produce and vibrant flowers on display at the farmers’ stands, blueberry samples from Rhonda’s blueberries, and live jazz music. For customer and unofficial market ambassador, Al Marshall, this is a special place. Here, he catches up with farmers, market managers, and customers who have become friends. The music, the food, and the people all provide an atmosphere that Al proclaims as his “favorite thing for a Saturday morning.”

Since moving to Athens in 2015, he has been involved in numerous food-related initiatives in the community, starting with the Georgia Food For Health program (formerly the fruit and vegetable prescription program). After multiple diagnoses and numerous doctor’s appointments, Al became more interested in taking control of his health. The GF4H program familiarized him to Southern vegetables like collard greens and introduced him to a community of people keen on improving their own health as well as those involved in growing and procuring local food. 

It also introduced Al to the farmers market, where he now purchases most of his vegetables. The Georgia Fresh For Less program has made the farmers market produce much more affordable, and he has been able to form relationships with the farmers who grow his food. His favorite part of the market is meeting local farmers and getting insight into who they are. As an amateur gardener himself, he enjoys getting tips about home gardening from the professionals. Friendships with people like market manager Sarah Thurman also led to his involvement with local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Collective Harvest. Every week, this program supplements his farmers market vegetable haul with additional fresh, local produce. 

Since becoming a farmers market and CSA customer, Al has not only had the opportunity to learn about a new community, but he has also seen huge improvements in his health. Eight years ago, Al’s glucose levels were dangerously high; now, they are back to normal and he attributes that to “the information and awareness I have with paying more attention to my eating [through GF4H] and access to the farmers market.” With his newfound confidence in managing his health, Al has taken his enthusiasm for Georgia Food For Health, SNAP, and the farmers market and directed it towards spreading the word about these programs. “I kind of see my job as being a very happy participant of sharing that news and just getting the information out there to help people who may not know that they have these resources available,” he says. With his passion for good food and community building, it is not hard to imagine him being anything but successful in increasing awareness across Athens.