Judging from a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it appears Tennesseans have a taste for freshness.
To be precise, residents of the Volunteer State are hungry for more fresh produce, especially the kind that can be found at farmers markets. According to the report released by the USDA in 2014, Tennessee is the nation’s fastest-growing state when it comes to the number of farmers markets.
The reason for the growth is simple, says Amy Tavalin, farmers markets marketing specialist for the Market Development Division of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA).
“People want to know exactly how their food is grown and where it’s coming from,” Tavalin says. “The local movement is getting big. It’s really becoming a hip thing to eat locally.”
The increase in farmers markets across the state means more people have access to the fresh fruits and vegetables that are grown by Tennessee producers. And from the small sites with just a few vendors to the large malls, farmers markets play a key role in Gov. Bill Haslam’s Foundation for Health and Wellness initiative. “The governor really wanted Tennesseans to be healthier,” Tavalin says. “And since farmers markets have grown so much here, that’s just one avenue in making healthier Tennesseans.”
With farmers markets opening in more places across the state, access to fresh produce is certainly becoming more bountiful. But the markets need to also be a place where consumers can learn how to prepare that bunch of kale or bushel of beans they just bought, according to Rick Johnson of the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness.
“I think there’s a certain amount of trust and pride in knowing that my food’s coming from a farmer who’s a neighbor, a fellow Tennessean,” says Johnson, CEO of the nonprofit that works to enable and encourage Tennesseans to lead healthier lives. “I think that does matter to a lot of people.
“But we also can’t take for granted that even when a market is there and the food is available, that people know about it or how to prepare some of it. We need to have farmers markets and have food available to people who need access to it, but we also need to let those places serve as a means to give people some help on how to cook what’s available there.”
To that end, the Market Development Division of TDA has been working with the Governor’s Foundation and local health departments in counties across the state to teach consumers how to prepare the fresh foods bought at farmers markets. In addition, University of Tennessee Extension agents are setting up at farmers markets to teach about canning and freezing foods.
Help For Low-Income Consumers
The TDA also worked with the Department of Human Services in an effort to give low-income consumers who use EBT cards through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) better access to farmers markets.
“We hosted a one-day event where farmers and market managers could get on-site approval from Food and Nutrition Services and begin using a SNAP/ EBT machine at their farmers markets,” Tavalin says. “They received six months free of fees and a free EBT machine.”
In addition, the Market Development Division has assisted with a grant proposal for a “double bucks” program that allows SNAP participants to double the value of an EBT card at farmers markets.
To help make farmers markets in Tennessee even more viable, the state and the Tennessee Association of Farmers Markets (TAFM) are working on a plan for farmers markets certifications.
“We want to teach people how to manage farmers markets and have a place to go to learn about farmers markets, and now we’ve taken it to the next level with certified farmers markets,” says Steve Guttery, TAFM president.