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Group voices concern over grocery produce sold at Johnson City Farmers Market

Zach Vance • Nov 7, 2017 at 9:59 PM

Most people expect produce or fruit bought at a farmer’s market to be fresh and locally grown, but that’s not always the case at the Johnson City Farmers Market.

Now a local group of concerned shoppers and vendors are voicing concerns about the quantity of grocery store produce being sold at the venue.

“I understand that not everything can be grown right here in the Tri-Cities, but most farmers markets have some sort of rule, (such as) grown within 100 miles,” said Courtney Andrews, who organized the group through Facebook.

According to the Johnson City Farmers Market’s rules and regulations, “Farmers must grow at least 50 percent of the produce sold at the market. The other 50 percent sold may come from outside sources.”

“Should a farmer not meet the 50/50 rule. (For example) should 40 percent of your sales be from (produce) grown locally and 60 percent from outside sources, then you must collect sales taxes on the 10 percent that exceeded the allowable limits,” the Johnson City Farmers Market website states.

The Jonesborough Farmers Market is a producer-only market where 100 percent of products are sold by the farmer or artisan, according to its website.

When Andrews first expressed her concerns by sharing a photo of an onion with a grocery store sticker still attached to it, the Johnson City Farmers Market replied, “We allow a small amount of store bought produce to allow for increased variability.”

The farmer’s market bylaws also require all locally grown produce be labeled as such, but some vendors say that’s not always the case.

Micky Morton, who’s sold produce for two years at the Johnson City Farmers Market, said she wants to see more vendors identifying where their produce was grown.

“Throughout those two years, I’ve just seen a lack of education of where the produce and goods are coming from, as far as if it’s local or grown on their own farm,” Morton said.

Johnson City Farmers Market Treasurer Heather Shipley said the board has been considering a change to reduce the percentage of brought-in produce, but a decision has yet to be made.

“It’s been under discussion,” Shipley said.

Morton and Andrews were also concerned about vendors and consumers smoking cigarettes underneath the Pavillion at Founders Park while the market was open.

“There’s a lot of smoking going on between consumers and vendors,” Morton said. “We sell baby plants, like tomatoes and peppers, and nicotine can harm them. It will either cause a stunt of growth or no production of the fruit.”

With the farmer’s market season just concluding Saturday, Andrews and her group attended Tuesday’s Johnson City Farmers Market annual Board of Directors meeting, where new board members were elected.

“As of now our plan of action is to be a peaceful grassroots movement. There are a few vendors that are ready to take a seat on the board, if elected in,” Morton said in a Facebook posting.

“We also hope to encourage the development of a task force to monitor the market and create suggestions of additional change to the structure and bylaws the market holds.”

During that meeting, a motion was made to add a second member at-large, who represents the collective voice of the vendor membership at whole.

Savannah Smith, a member of Andrews’ Facebook page, was nominated and elected to that newly created position. Jennifer Mrozek, a first-time vendor at the Johnson City Farmers Market, was elected as the other member at-large.

“I do want to help cut down on the percentage of grocery-store produce allowed. I’m going to be a voice for those people who want that because I, myself, cannot tell them that this is how it’s going to be,” Smith said.

“But, I will be a voice for all the people who are ready for a change at the farmer’s market.”

With a marketing and advertising background, Mrozek said she would try to boost the Johnson City Farmers Market visibility.

The officers of president, vice president and treasurer remained the same from last year.

In other farmers market news, Shipley said reimbursements through the EBT, pharmacy and double dollars programs grew tremendously, from $8,000 last year to $41,000 this year.

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