Augusta farmers market vendors still feel winter storm's chill

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As the late July heat approaches 90 degrees, Alex Kenner patrols his stand at the Augusta State Farmers Market on Fifth Street.

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Terry Judge sells nearly every type of fruit and vegetable at the Augusta State Farmers Market.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
Terry Judge sells nearly every type of fruit and vegetable at the Augusta State Farmers Market.

His mind, however, remains in February.

“That ice storm,” Kenner said. “You have no idea how bad it hurt business.”

Although most visible damage from February’s freeze has long since vanished, Kenner and other stand owners still feel it.

With trees and farm fields devastated by the winter storms, the produce profits have dwindled.

“Overall, I’m down 40 percent this year,” Kenner said. “When a storm like that damages fruit trees, our costs are only going to increase. And, you know, that turns people off. When prices are too high, customers just stop coming.”

In 2013, Kenner sold a half-bushel of peaches for $17. One year later, it’s $27.

“I’m talking about for our best peaches – our No. 1 peaches,” Kenner said. “You can get No. 2 peaches for cheaper, but our top peaches have gone up $10 … There’s just not enough supply.”

Kenner says his prices for melons, peas and okra have also increased, “but not by much.”

“The fruit trees were hurt the most,” he said. “Fields got hit too, but the supply wasn’t damaged as bad.”

Stand owner Terry Judge has also been dealt a difficult hand in 2014. Judge, who’s worked at Augusta’s Farmers Market for more than 15 years, sells nearly every type of fruit and vegetable, from onions to watermelons.

“The crop this year was about a month late, so we really didn’t start selling until June,” he said. “There’s no question the winter hurt profits.”

However, in spite of the late start, Judge says sales are beginning to pick up.

“The bottom line is people still want fresh produce that’s locally grown,” he said. “This summer may have started slow, but we’re doing pretty good right now. We’re hanging in there.”

For Kenner and Judge, this is their second consecutive summer dealing with unfortunate conditions.

Last year, heavy rainfall hit Augusta and caused sales to falter.

Accor­ding to Augusta Regional Airport, June 2013 saw 10.83 inches of rain, the wettest on record for the month.

“It hasn’t been easy,” Ken­ner said. “We haven’t made very much profit these last two summers.”

Still, the retired Augusta native has no plans of closing shop.

“Sitting at this stand is all about family,” Kenner said. “It’s a family tradition. My father sold produce and I enjoy doing it, too. For me, it’s not about making lots of money.”

GO TO MARKET

Find produce, flowers and more at the Augusta State Farmers Market, 1150 Fifth St. The market is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call (706) 721-3004.

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