“It’s such a strong community identity for us,” says Paige Alost, executive director of the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).
According to Alost, the Athens Farmers Market is the largest growers’ open-air farmers market in Ohio. In 2009, the CVB realized the market’s vendors travel from within a 30-mile radius of Athens. Looking at other food partners within that distance, they discovered a total of about 140 food growers, butchers and purveyors.
“We kind of surprised ourselves about how big our local food economy really is,” Alost says. “We almost took it for granted because it had been around so long.”
Athens, she notes, has been a large producer of local foods long before the local foods trend began.
“Partly, it’s because we’re in the Appalachian region, and people make best use of their land,” Alost says. “But unlike other places in Ohio, the people of Athens have had a longtime commitment to knowing where their food comes from, living off the land and using natural resources in an appropriate way.”
The CVB partnered with ACEnet, a micro-enterprise development organization, to develop Athens as a local food destination. To help introduce visitors to Athens’ food, they created the 30 Mile Meal Campaign. The campaign gives back to the community through an annual charity dinner, with meals prepared by local chefs.
“It’s a very informal, collaborative brand,” Alost says. “The more farmers and businesses use the 30 Mile Meal Campaign, the more consumers can interact with it.”
The campaign includes a map, allowing consumers to find nearby food and farmers markets as well as agritourism events.