With bright bouquets of fresh flowers, homemade baked goods, artisan jams, honey and more, today’s farmers markets offer much more than fruits and vegetables.
In Tennessee, the growth and improvement of farmers markets over the past decade has been significant, thanks in part to national and state programs.
“The current U.S. Department of Agriculture administration has been very focused on ‘know your farmer, know your food,’” says Bobby Goode, state executive director for the USDA Rural Development program. “The old saying was that it was best if you had a neighbor with a garden. Now, it’s better to have a community with a farmers market.”
The program, an umbrella agency under the USDA, provides loans and grants to rural communities across the state through programs that focus on rural houses and businesses, utilities and economic development. In the past three years, the program has helped fund 13 farmers markets, giving $500,000 in grants.
“We think it’s important to fund rural farmers markets because the dollars stay in the local community,” Goode says. “Anything that helps producers stay local will help local residents as well.”
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture also provides marketing assistance, training and funding for farmers markets to complement the work being done by USDA Rural Development and the Main Street Program.
In some cases, TDA has partnered with USDA Rural Development to help leverage federal and state funding for capital investments in farmers markets. The USDA Rural Development program works closely with the Tennessee Main Street program, which strives to improve the business climate in historic downtowns.
A division of the National Main Street Center, the Tennessee Main Street Program acts as a liaison between the national program and organized local programs. Currently, 24 communities are involved in the program and are completely self-sufficient as far as raising funds, setting goals and appointing board members.
Tennessee Main Street Program Manager Kimberly Nyberg says the program helps communities revitalize their core downtown areas by focusing on design, promotion, economic restructuring and organization.
Regarding farmers markets, Nyberg says the Main Street program acts as a catalyst to bring attention to the downtown markets.
“The programs are organized on the local level and they understand local history,” Nyberg says. “This mix of understanding the history of the farmer and also the business opportunities that farmers markets can bring is crucial.”
Nyberg says some farmers markets are beginning to turn more into “local markets” by adding things like live music, educational classes, events and even night hours. In Tennessee, some of the most successful downtown farmers markets are located in Dyersburg, Dandridge and Murfreesboro.
Both Goode and Nyberg agree that farmers markets are a great thing for Tennessee’s agriculture industry and economy.
“It really brings the whole concept of farm-to-table to life,” Nyberg says. “And economically, farmers have another venue to sell products.”