Whether it’s finding the season’s first ripe tomatoes or the opportunity to visit with friends, the state’s nearly 170 farmers markets are beloved by Tennesseans.
In 2014, Tennessee ranked first in the nation for growth of farmers markets, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
That comes as no surprise to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA), which lists the state’s markets on its Pick Tennessee Products website. During the 2018 market season, TDA asked consumers and producers to describe what the community markets mean to them as part of its “Why I Love My Market” campaign. The responses included finding new friends, keeping up with neighbors, finding locally grown products and, of course, access to fresh Tennessee meats and produce.
And this response from Lisha Bates of HPA Farms in College Grove, “I like to feed people.” Bates and her husband, who comes from a multi-generational farming family, sell pork, beef, chicken and eggs at the Lane Agri-Park in Rutherford County.
“We have a lot of regular customers, but we also get to meet new people, and then turn them into our customers,” Bates says.
“I love working the market,” she adds. “I’m a people person and enjoy the opportunity to meet new customers and tell them about what we do on the farm. We enjoy offering good-quality locally-grown and locally-processed meats. We like to feed people like our grandparents did.”
Julie Bernard of Bernard Farms in Orlinda says selling farm-raised pork at the Springfield farmers market helped create new opportunities for the farm she operates with her husband. Both come from generations of farmers and chose to raise pigs for their own family. Friends and neighbors began asking to buy sausage and other meat products, so the next step was opening a stand at the farmers market, which was so well received that they decided to open an on-farm store. “Sales keep growing every year,” Bernard says.
“The farmers market gave us that platform for our products and to gain customers,” she says. “I think right now people want to know where where their food is coming from and they don’t want it to be far from their back door. People want fresh, local meats and produce, and the farmers markets make that accessible.”