With the encouraging resurgence of sustainable farming and back yard gardens, we are fortunate to see public Farmers’ Markets cropping up in small communities all over the nation. One of the best examples is the award winning Farmers’ Market at River Park in Centerville. It was the only farmers’ market in Tennessee to receive the Governor’s Bright Spot designation in 2015. The Tennessee State Rural Development Committee also awarded the Farmers’ Market at River Park the Community and Agricultural Development Award of 2015, a prestigious annual award, ordinarily reserved for a city or chamber of commerce.
How do farmers, bakers, crafters and other community members create a farmers’ market? It takes numerous community members with determination and perseverance. First called the Centerville Farmers’ Market, it began at the turn of the century with a couple of farmers and a baker setting up their wares in parking lots and lawns around the town. In 2007, with the help of the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program funding, the first of its kind, $24,000 was granted specifically for the local market. This partnership, with matching in-kind designated land and utilities installed by the City of Centerville resulted in a large open air pavilion with bathroom facilities at the River Park in Centerville.
Since then, the Farmers’ Market at River Park continues to grow with encouragement and personal nurturing of new participants by David and Ginny Lundell, who coordinate vendors and special events. They are also seasoned vendors offering toxin-free vegetables, honey, eggs and mushrooms from Riversong Farm. Dedicated volunteers, the Lundells were recently awarded the 2015 Visionary Award by the Tennessee Department of Health.
The Health Department, University of Tennessee Extension service and Tennessee State University are key contributors to the success of the Farmers’ Market at River Park. Grants like the Enhancement grant and the Innovative funds grant from the Department of Health can help with advertising and special events. These agencies also have numerous and varied workshops available to vendors and groups that are creating farmers’ markets. Boot Camp for vendors, workshops on irrigation, pruning and organic gardening are a few of the topics that have been hosted in Hickman County. PickTN is another good resource that also provides advertising and marketing support, posters, signs, informational hand-outs and swag. Their expertise is bountiful and often at no cost.
Ms. Lundell says that building a successful farmers’ market requires education and encouragement with the new farmers and young families that are choosing to homestead. Retirees also bring a great resource to the market, often being seasoned farmers with years of experience. It is helpful to solicit vendors by tapping into the local farmers co-op, hardware stores, etc. The market can be a symbol of the vitality of the local energy and indicates a strong community behind it.
Patrons of the Farmers’ Market at River Park describe it as a friendly place where you feel a sense of community from talking with farmers who care about how they grow our food. Others mentioned the lovely aroma that the vendors bring with them. The variety and quality is not found in regular grocery stores, and most of the produce is super fresh, just having been harvested that morning. Along with a culinary adventure, the market becomes a meeting place where one can share news and coming events while meeting old friends and making new ones. One can plan meals around what is available that week and can always try something new.
Some of the special events at the Farmers’ Market at River Park include special guests from the Health Council, a local adopted elementary classroom, games and visits with Maxine the chicken or a baby goat. For the season’s first event, the market will be at the Centerville Police Dispatch center with the Centerville Garden Club on May 7, 2016, 8 a.m.-noon. This is a great time to get plant starts for the summer’s garden. May 28, 2016 is the official grand opening as the Market is a key stop on the Fifth Annual Arts & Ag Tour. The Tour is on May 27th and 28th, a free, two day self-guided tour throughout Hickman County with over two dozen stops at sustainable farms and other places of interest. For more information about the Arts & Ag Tour see artsandag.com or find Arts & Ag on Facebook. Don’t miss this great opportunity to cruise the backroads, eat fried chicken, milk a goat, pick some greens and dance a jig to live music on the Arts & Ag Tour.
Throughout the summer the market will be open each week through September at the River Park on Tuesdays and Saturdays 8 a.m.-noon. This year, the market plans to accept a certain amount of EBT funds for recipients to buy fresh, local produce. Cooking demonstrations will begin in June to add to the educational aspect. Possibilities for expansion and satellite markets are being developed with Kedron Church in Nunnelly and Helping Hands on Hwy 46 in Lyles. There will be night markets one Thursday each month.
Realizing communities thrive with local farmers’ markets, Kingston Springs’ Mayor Tony Gross and a friend, Murray Stafford, started a conversation of how to create sustainability in their own community. With the help of his wife, Joy Gross, the mayor and a multitude of supporters have seen local growers and local artists interacting with shoppers in the grassroots market for the past three years. Utilizing city owned land where free parking is available, the Kingston Springs’ Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market has grown to two times per month.
“Because of the size of the community, you see 50 to 100 people you know,” John Lawless said. “Its a great place to come together, see the wares your friends and neighbors have grown and made.” Lawless and his wife moved to Kingston Springs from Nashville 17 years ago. “We wanted our kids to grow up in a place that was special. We really have an affinity for this city.” Their son plays soccer, and he remarked they “see half the town on the soccer field. The farmers’ market is another place to see half the town.”
Kingston Springs’ Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market opens at the end of May and runs through the end of September, 8 a.m. – noon on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays. It is a Tennessee certified market with goods grown, produced or made in Tennessee. An average of 30-35 vendors including local farmers, bakers and artisans (furniture, jewelry, custom and locally themed items) can be expected. Special events planned for this summer include live music and special, summer, evening events.
For more information call 615-415-2200 or visit www.ksfarmersmarket.org.