The demand for locally grown food has fueled extraordinary growth in farmers’ markets across Tennessee.
The state has 115 farmers’ markets listed through its Pick Tennessee Products online directory to tempt consumers with farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as meats, cheeses and artisan items.
That’s about double the 58 markets listed with the directory just five years ago, according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA).
“We are having tremendous growth in farmers’ markets,” says Pamela Bartholomew, TDA marketing specialist for agritourism and farmers’ markets. “It is unbelievable how many markets are popping up in small and large communities.”
Athens, population 14,000, has been overwhelmed by the response to its 2011 debut of Market Park, a downtown property the city acquired and redesigned to shelter farm vendors selling seasonal items from a five-county region of southeastern Tennessee.
“To say it was successful is a major understatement,” says Austin Fesmire, the city’s director of parks and recreation. A one-day-a-week market idea turned into a daily event.
With 69 farmers registered for its 2011 opening, the city had a near 50 percent year-over-year growth in vendors, Fesmire says.
TDA has supported the growth of farmers’ markets through grant programs, marketing assistance and educational sessions.
Farmers offer fruits, vegetables, meats, honey, cheeses, canned goods, breads and pastas, as well as candles, soaps, and wood and fiber products. Some markets are open year round. Others follow the growing season, starting with spring asparagus and ending near Halloween with pumpkins and squash that double as fall decor.
Visit the Pick Tennessee Products website for a list of all Tennessee farmers’ markets.